2014 Bills

SB256: Rolling Back Asset Forfeiture Changes

This bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously. Visit our Legislative Index to see the final vote rankings for the 2014 general session.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

In December we released a policy analysis highlighting several key changes made to forfeiture law in Utah last year. The changes were made through a bill that was explained as simple “re-codification” (a “clean up bill”) and therefore received unanimous support for legislators who had no reason, in the rushed last week of the session, to read a bill that contained 51 pages of new text.

But it wasn’t re-codification. The bill was the work of the Attorney General’s office who in a “working group” of prosecutors spent several months rewriting Utah’s forfeiture law. Representatives from the AG’s office were present in the meetings where this bill was explained as re-codification, and despite clearly knowing that it was much more than that did not correct the inaccurate claim and thus allowed the incorrect characterization of the bill to be wrongfully perpetuated.

Additionally, the Attorney General’s office released a one-page response to our policy analysis, which we responded to and rebutted. Since that time, we have met several times with either Sean Reyes or his subordinates to discuss forfeiture law generally, last year’s bill specifically, and the Attorney General’s continued attempts to undermine the 2000 citizen initiative.

In the conclusion of our policy analysis, we wrote the following:

Given the direct vote of Utahns in 2000 making clear their intent in altering the law, we believe that any changes to that initiative must be done in good faith—something that the 2013 amendments cannot claim. As such, we recommend rolling back the key changes outlined in our analysis to restore what the public, and legislators, understood forfeiture law to be. Once reverted, those who desire to introduce these or other changes in the law may make their case and determine whether sufficient support exists once all parties are informed and hear all sides of the debate.

The result of this recommendation is Senate Bill 256 by Senator Howard Stephenson (and sponsored in the House by Representative John Knotwell). The primary effort in the bill is to roll back the substantive or key changes made in last year’s bill, as these changes were not re-codification of existing law. Additionally, in discussion with the Attorney General’s office, we have made several concessions or changes to what we had initially proposed.

The changes to the bill are best read in conjunction with our policy analysis that clarifies the historical context and changes made relative to each area of the law.

Our appeal to legislators, regardless of their position on forfeiture law generally, is to support this “rollback bill” in repudiation of the false “re-codification” claim last year that masked an overwhelming change. Let’s change these key portions back, and then engage in a wider discussion (not just prosecutors in the AG’s office) with all interested parties to discuss the finer points of forfeiture law.