Despite recent gains around the country, civil asset forfeiture reform suffered a setback in Maryland when Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed a bill that would have placed restraints on the state’s civil forfeiture regime.
Civil asset forfeiture is a process by which the government is able to seize property (cash, vehicles, homes, hotels, and virtually any other item you can imagine) and keep the proceeds without ever charging the victim with a crime. The bill, SB 528, would have established a $300 minimum seizure amount, shifted the burden of proof to the state when someone with an interest in the seized property asserts innocent ownership (e.g. a grandmother whose home is taken when her grandson is suspected of selling drugs out of the basement), and barred state law enforcement agencies from using lax federal seizure laws to circumvent state law.
In vetoing the measure, Gov. Hogan claimed that restraining civil asset forfeiture “would greatly inhibit” the war on drugs in the midst of a heroin epidemic and interfere with joint federal/state drug task forces. Gov. Hogan admitted that asset forfeiture laws “can be abused,” but that their utility outweighed the risk of abuse.
Each of these assertions is misguided.