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ACLU applauds House passage of bill changing asset forfeiture law

acluIn a press conference hosted Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia and the office of Delegate Mark Cole of Spotsylvania County, the organization congratulated the Virginia House of Delegates for passage of a bill that would require a criminal conviction in asset forfeiture cases. In a Tuesday afternoon vote, the House passed HB 1287 by an overwhelming margin of 92 to 6. The bill now heads to the Senate.

“This House vote makes clear that the people’s voices are being heard loud and clear by their elected representatives in Richmond,” said Rob Poggenklass, Tony Dunn Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Virginia. “HB 1287 will help end policing for profit in the Commonwealth. We hope the Senate will move quickly to pass this important legislation.”

Delegate Cole’s bill will likely go to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

“The Commonwealth should not be able to take and keep a person’s money or property unless they can prove that person is guilty of a crime,” said Delegate Cole. “Civil asset forfeiture without a conviction violates this fundamental principle of American justice. I hope the Senate will support my bill, which tackles this problem head on.”

At two hearings in January, the ACLU of Virginia stood in support of HB 1287, which would help end the abusive practice of civil asset forfeiture in the Commonwealth. The bill is supported by allies from all sides of the political spectrum, including the Virginia Tea Party Federation.

Since July 1991, Commonwealth law enforcement agencies have taken in more than $91 million in asset forfeitures. Law enforcement agencies may keep up to 90 percent of the funds from forfeitures that have a “substantial connection” to drug offenses. But under current Virginia law, the person whose money or property is taken need not be convicted of – or even charged with – a crime for the money to be seized and forfeited.

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