Report: Tennessee Civil Forfeiture Laws Among the Nation’s Least Protective

Tennessee has reformed some of its civil forfeiture laws, but more work remains, according to new report from a State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

“Tennessee’s civil forfeiture laws remain among the least protective of property owners in the nation,” according to the findings.

The 17 members of Tennessee SAC released their report late last week and submitted it to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

“Tennessee’s current civil forfeiture laws impose unnecessary burdens upon innocent property owners who seek the return of their property and provide no right to counsel even where basic needs are at risk,” according to the report.

“The Tennessee SAC also found that local law enforcement agencies are permitted to use seized assets for their own use without independent monitoring, creating financial incentives for misuse of the law. The Tennessee SAC further determined that recent abuse of civil forfeiture laws has been well-documented.”

Tennessee SAC also reported an absence of comprehensive data concerning where, when, and against whom civil forfeiture is used. That, SAC members went on to write, “limits meaningful oversight of local law enforcement agencies—resulting in a lack of fair and consistent use of civil forfeiture across the state.”

There were other concerns, according to the report.

“Tennessee is one of only three states in the nation to require a property owner to post a cash bond before being permitted to contest the legality of a forfeiture, and that in many instances, it does not make financial sense for innocent owners to contest a civil forfeiture,” the reports said.

The Tennessee Star and The Tennessee Watchdog have long documented case after case of police abusing their civil forfeiture powers and not keeping a proper inventory of what they had.

In one instance, according to a 2015 Tennessee Watchdog report, Morristown Police seized cars and demanded cash, which a police sergeant allegedly kept for himself — $6,000 in all.

More recently, according to The Star, members of the Caryville Police Department confiscated other people’s guns and tried to trade them before getting the proper permission.

Tennessee law said they can only hold onto those guns for 180 days, but they’d kept some of them a lot longer than that — for about 50 years.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]







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  1. […] The Tennessee Star reported last year, a State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said […]