NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WMOT) -- Tennessee lawmakers are considering a bill that would dramatically change the controversial practice of criminal asset forfeiture.
Under current law, police officers can seize cash, cars and even homes if there’s evidence the items are being used in the commission of a crime. Seizures routinely take place before the person is convicted, and sometimes even before arrest.
Bill sponsor Martin Daniel of Knoxville yesterday told the House Civil Justice Subcommittee that the state’s forfeiture laws should not allow police to keep what they seize.
“It results in a distortion of priorities, potentially prioritizing profits and budgets above the individual property rights of our citizens.”
Daniels says Tennessee police seized more than $17 million in cash alone last year, mostly in drug related cases. It can take months and thousands in court costs and legal fees for an innocent person to get his or her assets returned.
Daniel’s proposed measure would only allow forfeiture following a conviction with the proceeds going to the state, not to police.
As you can imagine, law enforcement isn’t happy about the proposed changes. Knox County Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief Lee Tramel told lawmakers police need forfeiture assets to fight Tennessee’s drug epidemic.
“Any tool in the toolbox that we have to fight these people with, w e need it., and we’ve seen it make a difference. Years ago, you would see people running dope have nice cars they were driving. Now they’ve gone to beaters cause they know we’re going to take those cars.”
The Subcommittee decided to postpone a vote on Rep. Daniels bill for two weeks. Several members said they wanted more time to study the issue.