It’s a little over a week into 2017 and Ohio is already leading the way on civil asset forfeiture reform. On January 4th, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed legislation that would require a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture laws could be used by law enforcement to confiscate the property of regular Americans. This makes Ohio the 12th state to adopt this type of legislation.
2016 was mixed year for reforming forfeiture laws. At the very end of 2015, the federal government announced that it would be putting its “Equitable Sharing Program” on hiatus, after federal omnibus legislation cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the program. In this program, state and local law enforcement agencies partner with the federal government to seize property from citizens without any criminal conviction. States are incentivized by the promise of Washington sharing up to 80 percent of the seized cash and other goods with them.
However, asset forfeiture opponents barely had time to celebrate the interruption of this program before the federal government announced it would reinstate it just a few months later in March.
While 2016 saw numerous civil asset forfeiture reform efforts on the state level, reinstating the Equitable Sharing Program presented a major problem for these state victories. By reinstating the program, the feds provided the means for law enforcement to bypass state laws and incentivized law enforcement agencies to continue using this legal tool against its citizens.
Luckily, the Ohio legislature took the Equitable Sharing Program into consideration while crafting their reform bill. As a result, Ohio law now provides safeguards against law enforcement agents seeking to partner with the feds in order to continue this practice –also known as “policing for profit.” By closing a loophole, which would have made participation in the Equitable Sharing Program easier for Ohio law enforcement, the state has ended a wasteful spending practice funded by this program.
In Ohio, over $140 million dollars has been generated for the state by participating in the Equitable Sharing Program. These funds were used to increase salaries, provide overtime pay, and even to pay for a face-painting clown.
While Ohio’s new protections against policing for profit offer an optimistic view for the rest of 2017, when it comes to reforming civil asset forfeiture laws across the country, there is still a long road ahead.