FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Nicholas Cote
House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed reform in 2015 session, but Virginia Senate again avoids floor vote “for further study”
Richmond, VA (April 15, 2015) – Right Way Forward Virginia, a nonpartisan libertarian advocacy group, criticized the latest delay tactic to prevent a vote in the Virginia Senate on an amendment to require a criminal conviction before an individual’s property can be permanently forfeited to law enforcement.
The amendment to SB 721 mirrored standalone legislation (HB 1287) that overwhelmingly passed in the House of Delegates earlier this year. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee reported HB 1287 before Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment referred it to the Senate Finance Committee, which passed by the bill indefinitely “for further study.” The Virginia Senate today passed by SB 721 and again deferred to the Virginia Crime Commission.
“The Virginia Senate failed to take this important first step toward comprehensive asset forfeiture reform,” stated Right Way Forward Virginia President Nicholas Cote. “The presumption of innocence is a bedrock of our criminal justice system, but Virginia’s asset forfeiture laws turn that principle on its head.”
“Virginians deserve to know where their state senators stand on this important issue,” Cote continued. “Basic due process rights don’t need to be studied. They ought to be protected — immediately.”
The stalled reform in Virginia stands in stark contrast to the recent passage and signing of an even more comprehensive asset forfeiture reform bill in New Mexico. That legislation requires the proceeds of criminal forfeiture to be sent to the general treasury and closes a loophole enabling law enforcement agencies to bypass that requirement through the federal equitable sharing program.
“As long as law enforcement agencies retain the proceeds of forfeiture, rather than send them to the general treasury, the perverse incentive remains for police to prioritize crimes involving large amounts of cash, such as drug crimes,” Cote stated. “Pursuing justice and preventing violence ought to be the top priorities for law enforcement, not padding their budgets.”
“Grassroots Virginians should continue pushing for comprehensive state asset forfeiture reforms while also urging Virginia’s congressional delegation to cosponsor the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act.”
The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (S. 255/H.R. 540), introduced earlier this year by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Representative Tim Walberg of Michigan, would limit policing for profit and establish important new safeguards for innocent property owners. This bipartisan legislation has over 30 cosponsors, but none representing the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on asset forfeiture earlier today.
Right Way Forward Virginia (RWFVirginia.org) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to promoting liberty, dynamism, and equal rights.