New Hampshire Becomes Latest State to Overhaul Civil Asset Forfeiture Process
New Hampshire recently joined a growing number of states that have reformed their civil asset forfeiture laws in 2016. These reforms no longer allow government agencies to seize and keep one’s property without ever being charged with a crime. Under legislation by Governor Maggie Hassan signed on June 24, the Granite State joined 10 other states that require a criminal conviction in most or all forfeiture cases. The legislation, SB 522, also raises the standard of proof to “clear and convincing evidence,” as the burden the government must meet in demonstrating that the property seized was connected to the underlying charges of which the defendant was convicted. In addition, SB 522 requires the attorney general to provide thorough accounting records of grants made via the state’s drug forfeiture fund.
SB 522 makes several significant reforms; however, individual agencies’ incentive to profit from forfeiture cases remains. Under New Hampshire law, once property is forfeited, local agencies are permitted to keep 45 percent of the proceeds; an additional 45 percent is provided to the state’s drug forfeiture fund. The remaining 10 percent goes to an account for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. According to the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit report, over $1.15 million in property has been forfeited in New Hampshire from 1999 to 2013.
In addition, SB 522 does not end New Hampshire’s participation in the federal forfeiture program called, “equitable sharing,” which permits states to keep funds seized by federal and state agencies or joint task forces. In essence, state agencies that collaborate with federal agencies can receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property. According to the Institute for Justice, New Hampshire received over $17.8 million via equitable sharing between 2000 and 2013.
However, due to its new conviction requirement, New Hampshire became the latest state to join a growing, bipartisan movement. The signing of SB 522 means New Hampshire is the eighth state to have reformed its forfeiture laws in 2016.The ALEC models Asset Forfeiture and Private Property Protection Act and The Reporting of Seizure and Forfeiture Act have been used in full or in part by numerous states in their efforts to reform civil asset forfeiture.