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Montana Legislature Passes Bill To Protect Your Property From Police Confinscation

Montana’s state legislature passed a civil asset forfeiture reform bill Thursday to keep police from stealing citizens’ property. Now the bill will go before Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock for his signature.

Civil asset forfeiture is a practice whereby police are allowed to seize your property and keep it even if they don’t convict or charge you with a crime. Then, you must endure the difficult, and often unsuccessful process to get your property –whether it’s a vehicle, cash or your house – back from the police. The practice has come under serious criticism for a constant stream of documented abuses.

The bill has a few key reforms:

1. The law requires a criminal conviction before forfeiture of property. Police can still take your property if they suspect it’s tied to criminal activity, but if you’re not convicted of a crime they have to give it back.

2. Once convicted, police must show by “clear and convincing” evidence that the property is tied to the criminal activity in order to keep it, a much higher burden of proof than the previous probable cause.

3. It shifts the burden of proof to the government when your property is forfeited because of someone else. This means that if your friend takes your car without permission and police seize it while your friend is joy riding, you have a much better chance of getting it back from police.

Notably, the bill does not address the questionable incentives involved with civil asset forfeiture. Currently, when police seize property they can keep the profits for their own budgets. Some states have addressed this with legislative proposals by having profits from seized property go to the state instead of the police department so that police are not tempted to seize property to pad their own budgets.

Advocates of reform say this won’t matter as much, however, because of the strong protections in the bill.

Lee McGrath, legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that only nine states prevent forfeiture proceeds from funding police: Indiana, Maine, Maryland,  Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Vermont and New Mexico.

Other states have made recent reforms of civil asset forfeiture. Michigan introduced a bill to reform the practice Wednesday, and a similar bill is gaining traction in California.

“Montana joins New Mexico, Minnesota and Utah as a state that has made significant improvement in the protection of property and due process rights,” McGrath told TheDCNF. “Law enforcement killed less comprehensive reforms in Virginia and Maryland this session.” (RELATED: The 7 Most Egregious Examples Of Civil Asset Forfeiture)

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