New Hampshire Considers Major Forfeiture Reform

The New Hampshire condition legislature’s Property Committee on Legal Justice and Public Protection is thinking about a significant transform to the Granite State’s forfeiture guidelines: a alter from civil forfeiture to prison forfeiture. Underneath is a snippet from my latest testimony that clarifies how this proposed change would make lifestyle superior for home owners in New Hampshire.

There is a basic pressure concerning the government’s use of civil forfeiture and the home rights of its citizens. Civil forfeiture allows police officers to seize home, and that seizure only requires possible result in to consider that the residence is connected to crime prosecutors then can shift the possession of the property to the governing administration by way of litigation in civil court, even if the house proprietor by no means confronted felony conviction or even criminal rates. The risk that civil forfeiture poses to house legal rights and due process raises major thoughts about forfeiture fairness.

The median dimensions of a funds seizure in The us now is all-around a number of hundred bucks to a very little in excess of a thousand dollars. (Medians vary by point out.) Revenues from New Hampshire forfeitures typical about $1.3 million yearly. The terribly high level of default judgments in these matters—around 80% of the proprietors of seized residence in no way demonstrate up in courtroom to contest the seizure—suggests limitations to obtain to justice. There are three substantial fears about fairness that come up right here.

First, residence house owners deal with a a single-two punch: They get rid of possession of their residence by seizure, then they find that they’ll have to shell out for their personal representation in order to recover it in civil court docket. When they discover that they should bear litigation expenditures that are larger than the value of the assets seized from them in order to earn, and when they look at the odds that they could are unsuccessful, they normally give up—in other phrases, there are several circumstances of seizure and forfeiture in which no rational litigant would go after restoration.

Second, numerous Americans know that evidence of legal legal responsibility involves the demonstrating of guilt over and above a realistic question. In truth, the weighty burden that prosecutors shoulder is often comprehended as a device that furthers important ethical values in the criminal justice system—more exactly, the prerequisite of evidence past a sensible doubt is seen as protecting innocent events who for a person cause or one more become ensnared in the prison justice procedure. In contrast, the reduced conventional of proof (typically “more very likely than not,” or higher than 50%) with which wrongdoing is verified in civil court—even however that evidence is the bring about for what appears to be punishment for legal acts—strikes lots of as basically unfair.

Third, the character of seizure and forfeiture as it is practiced nowadays is pockmarked with evidence that profits issues push the behavior of law enforcement officers and other govt agents—thus distracting them from focusing on public safety and criminal offense handle. Forcing law enforcement officers to serve as their individual profits collectors generates troublesome pressures and incentives that are possible to distract them from their central mission.

In 2016, New Hampshire legislators handed SB 522 into law that evaluate was an attempt to address some of the problems explained higher than. SB 522 temporarily suspended civil forfeiture litigation by delaying it till after criminal prosecution transpired. But this improve in litigation timing was a flawed remedy. The plan of SB 522 continue to necessitates a number of litigation community forums of litigation, which interprets to a lot more court strategies and prohibitive litigation expenses borne by house proprietors. Also, because these proprietors are nevertheless probably to default in civil court owing to litigation charges, SB 522 however leaves house proprietors without the need of the profit of the larger regular of proof that is enjoyed by criminal defendants. I would include that New Hampshire warrants credit for what it did two yrs later on in enacting SB 498, which substantially improved the transparency specifications of the forfeiture method.

Amendment 2022-0264’s proposed modifications to state regulation would renovate civil forfeiture proceedings to felony forfeiture proceedings. It will thereby give residence homeowners the very same kinds of procedural protections that are assigned to prison defendants. This adjust would practically completely reduce the failures of community policy that are described over. Although there are other advancements to the forfeiture approach that New Hampshire could also make (such as directing all forfeiture proceeds to the state’s typical fund, which would make it possible for the Basic Court docket to include things like seized cash in its price range deliberations), substituting felony forfeiture for civil forfeiture would be a huge phase ahead for fairness. Four states now count on felony forfeiture proceedings (Nebraska, North Carolina, New Mexico, and neighboring Maine), and the General Court docket can shield the rights of the Granite State’s assets proprietors by earning New Hampshire the fifth condition to enact these reforms.