Bill might stop cops from seizing your property

Posted at 2:26 AM, Oct 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-02 02:26:24-04

CINCINNATI - Innocent or guilty, your property could end up in the hands of police.

Is that fair?

Seizing property - cash, cars, houses - is big business for the government! State and federal authorities confiscated more than $4 billion worth in just the last 10 years.

In Ohio, your property could be seized even if you're not charged with a crime, and you might not get it back. It could be sold with proceeds divided among law enforcers.

Some state lawmakers want to change that.

Imagine returning with cash you've won while gambling in Las Vegas only to have it seized by police. Ohio state representative Tom Brinkman recalls the problems that caused for one man.

"They confiscated his winnings, which were over $10,000, which he already had paid tax on, and he tried to get it back and he can't get it back. It's already been divided and split. He was never charged with a crime," Brinkman said.

That's why Brinkman is co-sponsoring a bill to change the law.

"They could still take evidence and hold it, but people would not forfeit it or lose it until there's a conviction," Brinkman said. "And, if there's no conviction, it's returned."

Former federal prosecutor now defense attorney Kathy Brinkman (no relation to Tom) says civil forfeiture is a valuable tool in fighting organized crime but she agrees change is needed.

"Civil forfeiture can break up criminal organizations that are involved in international terrorism, that are involved in serious drug trafficking, that are involved in big financial crimes," she said.

But what about ordinary people whose assets have been seized airports or during traffic stops?

Kathy Brinkman says that's where she thinks abuse can occur.

"They have great difficulty in challenging it in order to get it back, even if it is property that cannot really be connected to criminal activity," she said.

Some vehicles seized by the Hamilton County sheriff's office will be auctioned Saturday. Proceeds will help buy equipment they can't afford due to budget cutbacks.

"The problem with that is those items that are necessary should go through the local legislature," Tom Brinkman said.

But Cincinnati Police Capt. Paul Neudigate says he thinks the current law is just fine.

"We can actually impact these crimes before we have to wait for somebody to actually commit them. You know, where they want to tie it to a conviction, now we're being reactive  and we're not being proactive of what's going on out there," Neudigate says.

Julie Wilson of the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office says her office and the Ohio Prosecutors Association are against the plan because due process protection for individuals is already part of existing legislation.

Nonetheless, hearings on the proposed bill begin Tuesday in Columbus.