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Forfeiture reform bill sails through Senate

Mike Mosedale//April 25, 2014

Forfeiture reform bill sails through Senate

Mike Mosedale//April 25, 2014

By an overwhelming margin, the Senate on Thursday passed a bill requiring police to return cash, vehicles and other possessions seized in connection with drug cases in which the suspect is not convicted and does not makes an admission to the underlying offense.

“This, to me, is not a fiscal issue. It’s a liberty and freedom issue,” said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, the bill’s author. The Republican gubernatorial hopeful introduced the bill last year but it was not heard in committee.

“I am unaware of any groups with significant opposition to this bill,” Thompson said.

The Senate’s 55-5 vote underscored the broad political appeal of the reform, which was championed by both the libertarian Institute of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. In the House, the companion legislation is sponsored by Rep. Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis.

Concerns about the current forfeiture law came to the fore at the Legislature in the wake of the Metro Gang Strike Force scandal. That task force was disbanded in 2009 amid revelations of myriad abuses, including the use of forfeiture law to routinely seize cash and material items from individuals never charged criminally, let along convicted.

Thompson said that law enforcement was neutral on the bill. In one amendment made at the behest of prosecutors, the strict requirement of a criminal conviction was expanded to allow for seizures in cases where the suspect enters a pretrial diversion program or makes an admission of guilt.

According to a report from the State Auditor, police seized about $7 million in cash, vehicles and other property in 2012, principally in connection with drugs and drunk driving.

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