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New asset-forfeiture law could boost protection of citizens’ rights

State measure opposed by police who say they rely on seizures to fund operations


Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed into law a measure intended to bolster the rights of Colorado residents whose property is seized during criminal investigations.

The measure — signed by the governor June 9 and sponsored by Democratic Rep. Leslie Herod and Republican Sen. Tim Neville — is designed to steer more cases involving seized assets into state courts, where convictions are required before those assets can be permanently confiscated.

There’s no such requirement under federal procedures. Local police agencies often share confiscated assets in joint investigations with federal authorities.

Police agencies opposed the bill, arguing they rely on seized assets to investigate drug, human trafficking and other crimes.

Under the new law, state agencies cannot share proceeds with federal agencies if the total value of seized property is under $50,000. Police argued most assets they get from these cases don’t meet that threshold.

The law also requires police to report all asset forfeitures to the state and how they were used.

District attorneys already are required to file annual reports on seized property to the Department of Local Affairs.

An analysis prepared by legislative researchers, citing Department of Justice figures, found that 42 state police agencies received $4.4 million worth of assets in fiscal year 2014-15.

Civil asset forfeitures as a crime-fighting tool have come under scrutiny nationwide in recent years.

In March, the U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general reported that the department does not collect adequate data to determine whether law enforcement seizures of funds truly benefit criminal investigations or the extent to which they infringe on civil liberties.

In a response, the department’s criminal division said the inspector general underestimated the return of seized funds to their owners.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015 tightened control on the department’s asset forfeiture operations amid concerns that property could be seized without judicial oversight and without the owner ever being charged with a crime.


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