A bipartisan coalition has emerged nationwide to ban or limit the controversial process known as civil asset forfeiture, which has allowed government officials to seize and sell off property from suspects before they are actually convicted of a crime.
North Carolina, California, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, Ohio, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oregon, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, and Vermont have led by passing reforms to curb civil asset forfeiture, but Hawaii won’t be joining them thanks to Democratic Governor David Ige.
Ige vetoed House Bill 748, legislation that would have limited the use of civil asset forfeiture to situations in which prosecutors were able to secure felony convictions. This would have stopped most of the abuses that commonly arise from the practice.
“The legislature finds that civil asset forfeiture frequently leaves innocent citizens deprived of personal property without having ever been charged or convicted of any crime. This amounts to government-sponsored theft,” the bill read.
Ige released a misleading veto statement, denigrating House Bill 748, and claiming that safeguards are already in place to protect the innocent from being targeted by civil asset forfeiture in Hawaii.
“While the language of the bill characterizes asset forfeiture as “government-sponsored theft,” in reality, civil asset forfeiture is used only when a crime is committed and only for the purposes of stopping ongoing criminal activity and deterring further crimes,” Ige wrote.
“In short, the existing statutes require proof that property was connected to a crime, give an aggrieved owner the right to show lack of knowledge of the criminal acts, and allow for relief from any excessive forfeiture,” Ige claimed.
In actuality, Hawaii has some of the country’s most restrictive civil asset forfeiture laws in place that are rife for abuses. The nonpartisan Institute for Justice (IJ) gave Hawaii a “D-” rating citing their “low standard of proof” requiring “only that the government show by a preponderance of the evidence that property is tied to a crime.”
Carl Bergquist, who works as the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii’s executive director, also called out Ige’s deceptions.
“The notion that there is no abuse of civil asset forfeiture here in Hawaii is quaint. Last year’s audit reveals that there have been neither oversight nor rules in place to protect property owners from such abuse when it does occur,” he said.
A state audit of all forfeitures from 2015 released last year showed that criminal charges were not filed in 26 percent of cases while charges were completely dismissed in 4 percent of cases. This shows that almost a third of civil asset forfeiture cases targeted those who were likely innocent.
Although Republicans and Democrats throughout the country are now recognizing the widespread abuses related to civil asset forfeiture, the Democratic governor has protected the dubious practice from reform at least temporarily in the Aloha state.
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