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Legislative Committee Considers Changes To Civil Forfeiture Law

Phil Boots testifies during a committee hearing on civil forfeiture.

A legislative study committee is considering whether Indiana should make changes to its laws that allow police to seize the personal property involved in a suspected crime. Some argue the burden of proof for civil forfeiture should be higher.

State Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, proposed a bill during this year’s legislative session that would have required a criminal conviction in order for police to seize any personal property.

“I think if you’re going to take somebody’s property, it ought to be clear and convincing evidence,” Boots says. “You use that in every other criminal area, I believe.”

Boots says he’s heard from constituents who’ve lost money or property as a result of the law. He says one of the issues arises when property is confiscated that didn’t belong to the suspect in a crime. For example, Boots says one of his constituents bought his daughter a car, which police claimed her boyfriend used to commit a crime.

“Her boyfriend used it to commit prescription fraud, police seized the car, never charged the individual, never charged the girl, kept the car for over a year,” Boots says. “And, then they said finally you can come and get it, the impound fees were more than the car was worth.”

But Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry says he thinks the state’s civil forfeiture laws are adequate.

“There are circumstances where we believe seizure and forfeiture is appropriate where there’s never going to be a criminal conviction,” Curry says.

That can happen when people are trying to send drug money through the mail. Curry says they sometimes use a fake address as the destination, so it’s hard to track the suspects down.

There are several lawsuits pending that challenge Indiana’s current civil forfeiture statute, including one in Marion County. The non-profit Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit against the city of Indianapolis and Marion County prosecutor’s office last year claiming the Indianapolis police is “diverting millions of dollars of civil-forfeiture proceeds for its own benefit.”

Indiana law requires any proceeds from civil forfeitures be deposited into the state’s common school fund, but allows police and prosecutors to deduct law enforcement costs first. The lawsuit claims Indianapolis police and the Marion County prosecutor’s office haven’t sent any proceeds to the common school fund over the past five years.

Curry says the way proceeds from civil forfeitures are distributed should be changed. He says one-third of the proceeds should go to the prosecutor, 85 percent of the remaining amount should go to law enforcement and the other 15 percent should be deposited to the common school fund.

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