The future of civil asset forfeiture after HB 17-1313

CML was not quiet in our disappointment that HB 17-1313, so-called civil asset forfeiture reform, was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper on June 9. The governor established a task force to identify further reforms and improvements to civil asset forfeiture in Colorado. The task force will present recommendations to the General Assembly. The first meeting of the task force is Thursday, August 10 and CML will be at the table.

The task force membership includes:

  • Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) – Executive Director Stan Hilkey, Co-chair
  • Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) – Executive Director Irv Halter, Co-chair
  • Tim Neville, R-Littleton
  • Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village
  • Leslie Herod, D-Denver
  • Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance
  • Representative from the Department of Revenue (DOR)
  • Representative from the American Civil Liberties Union
  • Representative from Colorado District Attorneys’ Council
  • Representative from the Attorney General’s Office
  • Representative from County Sheriffs of Colorado
  • Representative from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Representative from the Fraternal Order of Police
  • Representative from the Colorado Municipal League (Meghan Dollar)
  • Representative from Colorado Counties, Inc.
  • Representative from the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar
  • Representative from the Drug Policy Alliance
  • Representative from Office of the Independent Monitor, City & County of Denver

In his letter to the General Assembly, the Governor outlined a broad scope for the task force to work within. Unfortunately, the League asserts that scope expands outside of just implementing HB 17-1313. It adds topics such as due process protections and guidelines for how local law enforcement agencies may utilize the funds they receive through the federal forfeiture process. CML is troubled by attempts to use the task force as a vehicle to expand the impact of what is already very problematic legislation for law enforcement as it:

  • Limits law enforcement from going after dangerous criminal enterprises such as human trafficking, illegal drug and marijuana sales, and organized crime.
  • Establishes arbitrary thresholds based on unsubstantiated assumptions.
  • Creates an inappropriate role DOLA to collect fines from local governments.

Identifying the best way to implement the legislation while mitigating any impact to public safety should be the task force’s top priority and CML will represent that position.

Though the task force has yet to begin its work, HB 17-1313 is effective August 9th. In that light, CML drafted a white paper for interested municipal officials. The paper has answers to frequently asked questions surrounding the reporting requirement, potential fines, and when a seizing agency may participate in a share back with the federal government. This is a working document, and it may change as the task force forms recommendations. For example, DOLA is currently the state agency that is mandated to collect and compile reports from local law enforcement, and the task force may recommend that CDPS may be the more appropriate entity for this task.

Though HB 17-1313 is now law, the debate on civil asset forfeiture reform is far from over. CML would certainly like to see improvements made to the Colorado asset forfeiture system, and we look forward to taking part in that discussion. The task force must present recommendations to the general assembly by December 1. During that time, CML will update the necessary information to make sure municipalities have the right tools to ease implementation. This will also include any information related to the recent announcement that federal restrictions established during the Obama Administration would be rolled back.

In the meantime, any suggestions for CML staff to bring to the task force are welcome and should be emailed to Meghan Dollar.

 

 

 

 

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