By Cameron Mattern
INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana Senate committee is taking up the issue of when and how the government can seize an individual’s property under state forfeiture laws.
Dozens packed into the Senate Finance Committee room at the Statehouse Wednesday to hear testimony about the state’s forfeiture laws, which allow the seizure of property in a civil proceeding. The issue is being heard by the Court and Judiciary Interim Study Committee and is chaired by Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville.
Marion County Prosecuter Terry Curry and Deleware County Prosecuter Jeff Arnold speak in front of the Courts and Judiciary Interim Study Committe on Wednesday. The study committee is revisiting civil forfeiture laws in Indiana. Photo by Cameron Mattern, TheStatehouseFile.com
Under current law, a law enforcement officer may seize the property of someone who is arrested, searched, or stopped as part of an administrative inspection. The state has 180 days to hold onto property before determining whether it was part of a criminal enterprise.
“Our constitution says you can’t deprive someone of their property without due process. Right now, we have law enforcement deciding where to seize it and not give it back to them,” said Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, in his testimony.
Boots was one of the authors of Senate Bill 8, which attempted to provide more protections to individuals whose property was seized under civil forfeiture laws. His proposal would have treated seized property differently from abandoned or unclaimed property. It also provided that seized property that was not abandoned or unclaimed could be given to the state if the person who owned or used the property was convicted of a criminal offense.
SB 8 failed.
Civil forfeiture is intended to prevent criminals from keeping possessions they obtained from illegal activities. State and federal governments can confiscate cars, houses, cash and anything else that they believe has been bought with the money from unlawful acts like selling drugs or other illegal activities.
Although civil forfeiture is aimed to keep criminals from retaining possessions they obtained with dirty money, there are also innocent individuals that have lost possessions from police officers after being pulled over or having to pay hefty fees to have a car released from impound.
Among those who testified before the committee were Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and Delaware County Prosecutor Jeff Arnold. They offered a proposal that would keep civil forfeiture laws in place but with provisions to protect innocent people.
Attorney Todd Ess, who handles criminal defense and forfeiture cases, said Boots’ bill had addressed many of the concerns he has about the existing law.
“The most common thing I hear is that it is a slow process. This creates a hardship on many hardworking people,” Ess said. “When you take someone’s car out of their possession for six months, it is going to have a very big impact.
Cameron Mattern is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.