Arizona has a new law regarding civil assets forfeitures. Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law HB 2810 on May 5. This law means law enforcement agencies cannot seize an individual’s property unless they can prove the property was used in a crime and they obtain a conviction.
Supporters of the bill claim it will curtail abuses of seizures of property by law enforcement. These abuses included taking money or property from individuals who were never charged or convicted of a crime.
Opponents say this new law will make it more difficult for law enforcement to effectively deal with organized criminals like drug rings.
The Arizona Mirror website said these seizures amounted to $24 million in 2019 in Arizona.
The bill was created by the Goldwater Institute and was sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert. He described this as a non-partisan issue that affects everyone.
The bill was passed by the Arizona House on Feb. 24, 2021, and by the Senate on April 28.
Ducey said he had an obligation to protect the property rights of Arizonans and balance those against the needs of law enforcement.
“Arizona’s Constitution provides broad protections for personal rights and property — broader so than the United States Constitution,” Ducey said in his signing letter. “As such, when reviewing legislation, I have a constitutional responsibility to provide a balance between those rights and ensuring that law enforcement has the tools necessary to protect our state.”
On their website, the Goldwater Institute described civil assets forfeiture this way: “Civil asset forfeiture, allows police and prosecutors in states across the country to take, keep, and profit from someone’s property without even charging them with a crime—much less convicting them of one. Originally created to fight organized crime, civil forfeiture is now mostly used against single individuals for small amounts of money or property. Half of all currency forfeitures in Arizona are for less than $1,000.”
The Pioneer contacted law enforcement officials in La Paz County for their reaction to the new law.
“The La Paz County Attorney’s Office will continue to use all the tools allowed by the Legislature to fight crime and deprive suspected drug runners of their ill-gotten gains,” County Attorney Tony Rogers said in an e-mail to the Pioneer. “The new law requires either a conviction or waiver of the conviction requirement, before a forfeiture can take place. In La Paz County, we normally see civil forfeiture apply to persons who either rent cars or, use their own, as the means to transfer illegal drugs into the State. This new law will likely cause a reduction in RICO forfeitures since forfeitures will now take place only after trials, which are often delayed for extended periods of time.”
Sheriff Will Ponce said he’d been following HB 2810 as it made its way through the legislature. While not happy with the outcome, he said it is now the law.
“We will now have to embrace its existence along with many others, whether we agree with the laws or not,” he said.
Ponce said the Arizona Sheriffs Association had fought hard on this bill. He said much of the sheriffs’ concerns and input were never considered or acted on. These included asking for a stakeholder process and submitting amendment language.
While the new legislation will require some changes in the Sheriff’s Office, Ponce said it will not prevent them from doing their jobs.
“Internally in the Sheriff’s Office, this does mean some changes to procedures and how cases are handled moving forward into the future, but it does not prevent us from investigating such crimes,” he said. “It just requires us to shift gears and seek alternatives of how we investigate and process such cases. The relationships with the prosecutors and law enforcement will need to be strengthened to ensure that the likelihood of conviction is greater.”
The new law will go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns.