By Frank Lewis
On Tuesday, Fix Forfeiture, the bipartisan advocacy organization working to reform civil asset forfeiture laws, represented by its partner organization Right On Crime, was scheduled to testify on the civil asset forfeiture reform legislation introduced by Rep. Robert McColley.
According to Fix Forfeiture officials, the legislation would reform the civil asset forfeiture process in Ohio so that no agent of the government can seize an individual’s property without due process.
The Daily Times asked Scioto County Prosecutor Mark Kuhn what the ramifications of such a law would have in the prosecutorial process.
“I guess it will depend on how it actually looks when it comes out of the committee,” Kuhn said. “What I’ve heard about it, is it would require a criminal prosecution tied to the civil forfeiture. What that means is a criminal case associated with the property as either being contraband and instrumentality or proceeds from the commission of a felony. “
Kuhn said it is different from county to county in the various counties in the state.
“In Scioto County the vast majority of our cases are tied to the criminal case,” Kuhn said. “We’ll file a lot of civil forfeitures because a lot of times the criminal case is still under investigation, being developed and we want to go ahead and give notice to the person and get the forfeiture case in front of the judge. But most of them are associated with a criminal case.”
He said exceptions to that rule are few and far between. Kuhn said he does not know if the legislation represents a bad change or not.
“Certainly there’s a little concern about occasionally we’ll see drug money heading north up (U.S.) 23,” Kuhn said. “Money that we think is drug money – a person that doesn’t have a job, doesn’t have an inheritance or lottery winnings, no explanation for where the money came from – typically does not come back and claim the money once it’s seized. I have those cases occasionally where they’ll find the money and no drugs, but for the most part I just don’t see it as having much impact on what we do here.”
Kuhn said he believes most people agree that it isn’t right that people who have legitimate money that has been seized have to file legal action to get their money back.
“They have to pay lawyers in late months or years to get their money back, that’s not right,” Kuhn said. “I think everyone would agree that’s not right. But in the same sense we want to make sure that people aren’t profiting from selling heroin in southern Ohio, Kentucky or West Virginia and to get to take those proceeds back north.”
He said the key to that scenario is what the Scioto County Drug Task Force and local law enforcement does – attempts to build criminal cases and allow a jury to decide.
The hearing is one of the last in a series of testimonies given on the subject. Just last month, Fix Forfeiture released new polling in Ohio showing overwhelming support for those reforms, with 81 percent of Ohio voters saying civil asset forfeiture laws should be reformed in the state—including 83 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents. Fix Forfeiture went on to say after voters hear both sides of the argument, the support jumps to 90 percent.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.