Pete Ricketts, the governor of Nebraska, signed a bill on Tuesday that abolishes civil forfeiture within the state. Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement authorities to take and keep property without filing legal charges or securing any criminal convictions. The bill, LB 1106, passed the unicameral legislature by a vote of 38 to 8.
Civil forfeiture has been a big problem for the citizens of Nebraska, there have been several cases where the victims were completely innocent. For example, there was a Peruvian pastor who had $14,000 seized during a traffic stop. He only could recover his cash with the help of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). A more outrageous instance for the case is a decorated Air Force veteran, who had taken more than $63,000 from his savings by a federal appellate court, even though he was never charged with a single crime.
The newly signed law now requires a criminal conviction to forfeit property. The accused must be convicted of an offense involving illegal drugs, child pornography material or illegal gambling to lose their cash, vehicles, firearms or real estate property. Nebraska joins nine other states that require a criminal conviction as a requirement for most or all forfeiture cases. Also, the criminal conviction requirement, LB 1106, also enacts new reporting requirements for seizures and forfeitures.
However, there is a problem with the legislation, according to Senator Tommy Garrett. He says that the new bill does not rectify the state’s incentive to forfeit property. Since 2011, federal agencies have received over $3 million in forfeitures under state law. A recent report from the ACLU of Nebraska states that “significant amounts of money have been seized through the state system from people who have never been charged with a crime.” Nebraska’s motivation with profit gaining from forfeitures has not been affected by LB 1106, only another constitutional amendment can change that. Lee McGrath, Institute For Justice’s legislative counsel, also made a statement regarding the problem:
“Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on due process and private property rights in America today. Today’s decision to abolish civil forfeiture will ensure that only convicted criminals—and not innocent Nebraskans—lose their property to forfeiture.”