New Hampshire House Passes Bill to Close Federal Asset Forfeiture Loophole

CONCORD, N.H. (March 14, 2017) –  Today, the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would close a federal loophole allowing state and local police to circumvent stringent state asset forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the feds.

Rep, Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont) and Rep. John Burt (R-Goffstown) introduced House Bill 614 (HB614) on Jan. 5. The legislation would prohibit New Hampshire law enforcement agencies or prosecutors from entering into agreements to transfer seized property to a federal agency directly, indirectly, by adoption, through an intergovernmental joint taskforce or by any other means, unless the seized property includes more than $100,000 in cash.

The bill cleared the Judiciary Committee with an “ought to pass” recommendation by a 9-8 vote. Today, the full House passed it by a vote of 219-139.

Final passage into law would slam closed in most situations a federal loophole that allows state and local police to get around more strict state asset forfeiture laws.

EXPANDING ON CURRENT RESTRICTIONS

Last year, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed SB522 into law. Under that new law, prosecutors cannot proceed with asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction in most cases. Under the previous law, police could seize assets suspected of being related to a crime and move for forfeiture in a process separate from any criminal case. The forfeiture could be finalized and the alleged criminal case could possibly be dropped. But SB522 left open a loophole that made the reform ineffective in practice. Since federal asset forfeiture standards are much lower, state and local police can simply pass cases to the feds to avoid the new more stringent state laws.

The situation in California was similar until recently. The state has some of the strongest state-level restrictions on civil asset forfeiture in the country, but law enforcement would often bypass the state restrictions by partnering with a federal asset forfeiture program known as “equitable sharing.” Under these arrangements, state officials would simply hand over forfeiture prosecutions to the federal government and then receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds—even when state law banned or limited the practice. According to a report by the Institute for Justice, Policing for Profit, California ranked dead last of all states in the country between 2000 and 2013 as the worst offender. In other words, California law enforcement was passing off a lot of cases to the feds and collecting the loot. During the 2016 legislative session, the state closed the loophole.

Passage of HB614 would close the loophole in New Hampshire in most situations and significantly increase protections for the state’s property owners.

As the Tenth Amendment Center previously reported the federal government inserted itself into the asset forfeiture debate in California. The feds clearly want the policy to continue.

Why?

We can only guess. But perhaps the feds recognize paying state and local police agencies directly in cash for handling their enforcement would reveal their weakness. After all, the federal government would find it nearly impossible to prosecute its deplorable “War on Drugs” without state and local assistance. Asset forfeiture “equitable sharing” provides a pipeline the feds use to incentivize state and local police to serve as de facto arms of the federal government by funneling billions of dollars into their budgets.

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HB614 will now move to the Senate for further consideration.