LINCOLN — Nebraska authorities would have to convict an accused drug smuggler before they could seize his cash, car or plane under legislation backed Wednesday by a politically diverse coalition in the Nebraska Legislature.
Legislative Bill 1106, introduced by Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue, seeks to change a common law enforcement practice called civil asset forfeiture. Supporters say forfeiture allows authorities to financially cripple drug dealers, but critics say it has been increasingly used to take assets from people who were never charged with or convicted of a crime.
Rarely do the American Civil Liberties Union and the Nebraska State Patrol find themselves on the same side of an issue.
“To have libertarians, conservatives and liberals all in one office working together, it was a sight to behold,” said Garrett, a Republican.
Under current state law, asset forfeiture takes place in a civil proceeding separate from criminal prosecution. Under the bill, asset forfeiture would become a criminal proceeding that would take place only after a conviction. In addition, state authorities would have to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that assets were derived by criminal activity.
Half of funds seized would go to support education in Nebraska and half would be reserved for law enforcement activities.
Nebraska agencies used forfeiture to collect $42.6 million between 2004 and 2014, according to a recent report by the ACLU of Nebraska.
Most of those funds were seized in cooperation with federal officials.
Among supporters of the bill were the ACLU of Nebraska, the State Patrol and the Institute for Justice, a national Libertarian group that has sued agencies over what it considers abuse of civil asset forfeiture.
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