The Nashville Metropolitan Council approved a resolution opposing civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction on Tuesday, just as a bill aimed at reforming state civil asset forfeiture laws is scheduled to be heard in a House committee meeting this coming week.
Nashville Metropolitan Council Resolution RS2019-1628 directs that the Metropolitan Clerk send a copy of the Resolution to the Davidson County delegation of the Tennessee General Assembly.
As The Tennessee Star previously reported, Representative Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville) and Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) are the sponsors of a civil asset forfeiture reform bill, filed under HB 0340 and SB 0362, respectively. It is the only reform bill filed this year under the subject of forfeiture of assets.
Civil asset forfeiture laws are intended to assist law enforcement officials in seizing assets illegally obtained by criminals to defund their criminal enterprise and to help fund law enforcement’s future efforts.
The civil asset forfeiture process, though, has been turned against innocent citizens and has received national attention, because assets have been seized that weren’t directly involved in the commission of a crime, assets are not necessarily returned even though the owner was never convicted of a crime, and the rightful owner has to fight in court to win back their own property.
While several bills have been proposed in the past to reform the civil asset forfeiture laws in Tennessee, the General Assembly has been reluctant to make even modest changes laid out in a February 2018 report by the Tennessee Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights entitled, “The Civil Rights Implications of Tennessee’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws and Practices.”
In addition to other findings, the report states, “Tennessee’s civil asset forfeiture law raises important concerns about the disparate impact that forfeitures can have on low-income individuals and communities of color.”
Now, the Nashville Metropolitan Council has passed a Resolution that “goes on record as opposing civil asset forfeiture absent a criminal conviction directly related to the seized property.”
Resolution RS2019-1628 goes further in going on record “as supporting efforts by the Tennessee General Assembly to make Tennessee’s civil asset forfeiture laws consistent with the principle of individual liberty.”
The Resolution passed unanimously through the Council’s Rules, Confirmations and Public Elections Committee by a vote of 7 to 0, as reported by the Committee Chair Antoinette Lee at the full Council meeting on Tuesday, March 5.
Due to the unanimous passage out of the Committee, the Resolution was placed on the full Council’s consent agenda, which then passed by the Council without objection.
The first stop for the Tennessee General Assembly’s House Bill 0340 is the Civil Justice Committee, which meets Tuesday, March 12. On the seven-member Committee sits the bill sponsor, Representative Daniel, as well as Nashville Democratic Representatives Bill Beck and Joe Towns, Jr.
The House version of the bill has bipartisan support with 32 co-sponsors, including 12 Democrats.
The list of Democrats signed on to the bill does not include the two Nashville Democrats who sit on the House Civil Justice Committee, Towns or Beck, the latter of whose wife is the Director of Criminal Justice Information Systems Division at TBI, “Tennessee’s lead law enforcement agency.”
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