Members of the Tennessee General Assembly won’t tackle civil asset forfeiture abuse because they fear a backlash from law enforcement, said State Rep. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville).
Daniel serves on the legislature’s Civil Justice Subcommittee.
Daniel told The Tennessee Star Monday that for the past three years he’s filed bills “that would have substantially reformed the problem.”
Daniel said his colleagues don’t show his bill much, if any, support.
And there’s a reason for that, Daniel said.
“Law enforcement likes to have this revenue, I would assume, because there’s not a lot of accountability and transparency. They can use this money to spend it any way they want to without the legislature’s or a county commission’s oversight,” Daniel said.
According to Justiceactionnetwork.org, Tennessee law enforcement officers can use civil asset forfeiture to seize and sell people’s property. They can do this “based only on their suspicion that it has been involved in criminal activity, without having to charge the citizen with a crime.”
Law enforcement officers can sell or auction this property to supplement their budgets. Officials in Tennessee, Justiceactionnetwork.org went on to say, have seized and forfeited more than $85.9 million dollars in property between 2009 and 2014.
These same law enforcement officers need more accountability, Martin said.
“They (law enforcement) make the case that this is essential for them to continue the losing war on drugs and to provide safety to the people of Tennessee they are charged with. Legislators buy into this, and the rhetoric is that ‘If you vote for civil asset forfeiture reform then you are against law enforcement,’ which is totally false. You can vote for reform and civil forfeiture and still support law enforcement, but they frame it that way. A lot of legislators are hesitant to go there.”
According to the Tennessee General Assembly’s website, Daniel’s bill, if ever passed into law, would require a district attorney general to review the underlying circumstances of a seizure to determine if probable cause exists to justify forfeiture. When appropriate, the DA would file a motion to dismiss the application for forfeiture warrant, upon which the court shall dismiss the application and return the seized property.
Legislators sent Daniel’s latest reform bill to summer study, according to the General Assembly’s website.
“More than 24 states have comprehensively reformed the practice of civil forfeiture,” Daniel said.
“But we, in this very red state, can get zero done.”
According to a recent poll on Justiceactionnetwork.org, 80 percent of voters who know what civil asset forfeiture is said they want reform.
“Law enforcement says this is designed to prevent drug trafficking by the cartels and the mules that are carrying these drugs and this money,” Daniel said.
“Well, you take a close look at it, and you learn the average size of the seizure and forfeiture is only $2,200 – that is not cartel money.”