Maryland Governor Larry Hogan Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill
On May 19, 2016, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed Senate Bill 161 (S.B. 161), which was introduced by state Senator Michael Hough. It contains several provisions of the ALEC model Asset Forfeiture Process and Private Property Protection Act and also contains substantial similarities to the ALEC model Reporting of Seizure and Forfeiture Act. One specific feature both the ALEC model policies and S.B. 161 share is a requirement that law enforcement agencies that have conducted either seizures or forfeitures be more open and transparent. For example, S.B. 161 requires law enforcement to report on an annual basis the date of the seizure, the type of property seized, the type of crime associated with the seizure, the outcome of the related criminal action, and the market value of the property seized. Additionally, it requires reporting of judgments of forfeiture in favor of the state. The measure had great bipartisan support, passing out of the Maryland Senate unanimously.
Governor Hogan’s signature demonstrates Maryland is committed to reforming its civil asset forfeiture laws. The Institute for Justice’s report, Policing for Profit, states that Maryland’s current civil asset forfeiture laws “suffer from a troubling lack of transparency: Agencies are not required to track or report their forfeitures.” In addition, the burden of proof in Maryland requires the property owner to prove the innocence of their property from the alleged criminal activity, rather than placing the burden on the government. Once S.B. 161 is implemented, the civil asset forfeiture process will become more transparent and will not require an individual to prove their property is “innocent.” Furthermore, it places restrictions on the State of Maryland’s ability to participate in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program, which allows state law enforcement agencies to receive forfeited funds as the result of seizures and subsequent forfeitures conducted in conjunction with federal law enforcement agencies.
While the new law does not require a criminal conviction for an individual’s property to be forfeited, it nevertheless makes numerous improvements to the civil asset forfeiture process. ALEC enthusiastically applauds Maryland leaders for recognizing the need to reform the Free State’s civil asset forfeiture process and tackling this challenge to produce better policies for its citizens.