DENVER – In a letter from Public Policy Director Denise Maes, the ACLU of Colorado strongly urged Governor Hickenlooper to sign HB 17-1313, a bill passed by more than three-fourths of the Colorado legislature to rein in civil asset forfeiture and ensure that property seizures in Colorado abide by due process protections in Colorado law.
“Civil asset forfeiture reform passed the legislature by a combined vote of 81 to 19. It was supported by Republicans, Democrats, libertarians, progressives and just about everyone in between,” said Maes. “Coloradans want and deserve stronger protections when property is taken by police, and Governor Hickenlooper should not unilaterally stand in the way of bipartisan reform.”
Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial practice in which law enforcement can seize – and then keep or sell – any property, including cash, vehicles, and even homes, that they allege is involved in a crime.
In 2002, the Colorado legislature strengthened Colorado’s civil forfeiture law, but police departments have increasingly avoided the requirements of that law by teaming up with federal agencies and seizing property under much less stringent federal law. In 2014 alone, $13.5 million in assets were seized in Colorado under federal law. HB 17-1313 closes that loophole by providing a clear incentive for property with a net worth of $50,000 or less to be seized under state law, not federal law.
“Opponents argue that HB 1313 will make crime fighting more difficult because if there are less forfeiture actions under federal law, local law enforcement agencies will get less money and, therefore, not be able to fight crime. This position is untenable and frankly, I’m surprised this argument is asserted with such vigor,” Maes wrote in the ACLU letter, which was sent by email to Governor Hickenlooper yesterday evening.
“Forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by diverting their resources. This argument by the opponents underscores the problem with forfeiture in that many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting.”
HB 17-1313 also increases transparency into police forfeiture activities. Departments will be required to detail to the public when they use civil asset forfeiture and list what was taken and what ultimately happened to the property. Law enforcement will also have to report if the person from whom the property was taken was ever charged with or convicted of a crime.
“We ask that you reject the arguments set forth by the opponents of HB 1313. Forfeiture actions in Colorado should abide by Colorado law,” Maes wrote. “This bill returns us to the Colorado way and it’s a way that better protects the due process rights of Coloradans.”
Read the ACLU of Colorado letter: