Arizona’s civil forfeiture laws rank as some of the worst in the country, with a D- rating from Policing for Profit, a national report card grading these laws in every state by The Institute for Justice.
What is Civil Forfeiture?
If police believe that a person’s property could be linked to criminal activity, they can seize the assets in question to use as evidence during a trial.
These laws are considered controversial because even if no one is charged or convicted, law enforcement can keep up to 100 percent of the seized assets unless, depending on the state’s specific laws, the owner can prove his or her innocence in the case.
Arizona’s D- Grade for Civil Forfeiture Laws
In order for the government to seize property in Arizona, it only has to show that the property is more likely than not linked to a crime.
Another contributing factor to the state’s low grade is the law’s requirement of innocent property owners to bear the burden of proof. Essentially, you are considered guilty until proven innocent. This means you must prove your innocence if you want to get your property back.
Due to considerable fees associated with filing to get items back, many are discouraged to even try. For example, an Arizona woman had to pay a $304 filing fee just to gain the right to challenge the seizure of her assets in court.
The Problem with Asset Forfeiture
Why would law enforcement want to keep seized assets even if no one was charged? According to the FBI, the purpose of asset forfeiture is to, “undermine the economic infrastructure of the criminal enterprise.” By taking away assets and property linked to a crime, police aim to discourage criminal activity and make it less profitable for those involved.
Although criminals and innocent property owners may never see their seized assets again, certain parties are definitely profiting from these laws.
Last year, Arizona earned $36 million in forfeiture revenue, and a significant proportion of this money paid for salaries and overtime for law enforcement officers.
From 2000 to 2014, the state collected $412 million in forfeiture revenue, with 28 percent, or $62 million, of that total spent on “administrative expenses,” which includes benefits, salaries and overtime, The Arizona Republic reports.
Currently, local and national organizations, including the Institute for Justice, are hoping to reform Arizona’s forfeiture laws.