Wyoming Senate Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform
The Wyoming Senate passed an asset forfeiture bill on Tuesday that would make it more difficult to seize money and property allegedly used in drug trafficking.
But the Senate proposal, unlike a measure pending in the Wyoming House of Representatives, would not require a criminal conviction before property could be seized.
Senate File 46 would require a judicial review of any attempt to seize property, with a judge finding ''probable cause" to believe the property was in fact used in drug trafficking,or at least intended to be used.
That's a change from current state law, which places the burden of proof on the property owner in cases where the state wants to seize property, essentially forcing the property owner to prove their innocence.
Lawmakers last year paused an asset forfeiture reform bill that would have required a criminal conviction before property could be seized. That bill was vetoed by Governor Matt Mead, who said he didn't see a problem with the current law. An attempt to override the governor's veto failed.
Many law enforcement groups opposed changes in the law, which allows for the seizure cash, cars, homes and other property and uses the proceeds to benefit law enforcement agencies.
Laramie County Sheriff Danny Glick was among those opposing last year's legislation, saying "We haven't done anything wrong" as far as abusing the law.
But supporters of asset forfeiture reform often cite a 2008 case in which a motorcyclist traveling through the state had $17,000 and a pistol seized after investigators said they found a few marijuana seeds among his belongings. The man retained an attorney and eventually got his property back, with no criminal charges ever being filed.
Supporters of reforming the law argue he shouldn't have had to go to the expense and trouble of a court battle to get his belongings back based on such flimsy evidence. Supporters of the current law argue the system actually worked, since he did get his property back.
The vote on Tuesday in the Senate was 30-0 in favor of the bill, which now goes on to the state house.