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Indiana courts and legislature review civil forfeiture

| Feb 11, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Indiana’s civil forfeiture laws were addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 and in a law passed in the state General Assembly in 2018. This year, however, another Senate reform bill was also introduced, and the state Supreme Court will review a case on whether forfeiture is lawful. Previous changes generally covered vehicle forfeiture but pending  reforms may have more impact on drug crimes and other offenses.

Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court and state Supreme Court addressed appeals over a forfeiture action involving a forfeiture action against a Land Rover. After a police sting operation, its owner was convicted in 2013 for dealing heroin and conspiracy to commit theft. The Land Rover was allegedly used in these crimes.

The U.S Supreme Court ruled in 2019, after court appeals in Indiana, that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excess fines did not apply to the states. Subsequently, the state Supreme Court issued its second ruling. The Court established a test for reviewing the proportionality of the value of the property forfeited compared to the offense.

Following appeals of lower court rulings returning the Land Rover to its owner, the state Supreme Court will review its early ruling in Feb. Prosecutors disputed the lower court’s finding that the crime was victimless because it involved a sale to undercover officers. They argued that forfeiture should apply to all property used in crime and that the grossly disproportionate test is subjective and defeats the underlying seriousness of drug offenses.

Legislature

Before the U.S, Supreme Court’s ruling in Nov. 2018, the Indiana General Assembly passed a civil forfeiture reform bill addressing many issues. These included innocent owners, time periods for forfeiture actions and procedures for forfeiture fund disbursements.

Another reform bill, Senate Bill 24, was introduced this year. Its sponsor argued that previous reforms mostly covered vehicle forfeiture.

Senate Bill 24 addresses many issues such as the seizure of unabandoned or unclaimed property, procedures for regaining custody of forfeited property pending a court order, and Indiana’s participation in a federal forfeiture agreement.

This new bill will also require a criminal conviction before seizure of claimed or unabandoned property. The standard for forfeiture is raised from the preponderance of evidence standard to the clear and convincing evidence standard. Defendants will also have the right to a jury trial in forfeiture proceedings.

Civil forfeiture proceedings will be part of the underlying criminal proceedings under this bill. Many defendants were unaware that these proceedings were separate.

As this issue shows, the criminal justice system can be confusing and intimidating. Kammen & Moody can offer you the experienced support you need.