Houlon Berman Managing Partner, Richard A. Finci, Testifies Before Maryland House Judiciary Committee on Behalf of American Civil Liberties Union and Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney Association in Support of Forfeiture Reform in Maryland
Forfeiture reform may be on the horizon in Maryland. As a result of a series of articles in the Washington Post (links to which you can find on Houlon Berman’s Facebook page) as well as reforms implemented by U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder with respect to the use of federal forfeiture by State and local police departments, a bill was introduced this session to reform Maryland State forfeiture law. After hearings on the bills, it is expected that the reforms will be presented to the Legislature for vote in the very near future.
The reform bill would make a number of important changes to Maryland forfeiture law. First, it would prohibit “adoptive” forfeitures, common until very recently, in which State and Local police departments turn seized property over to Federal authorities for administrative forfeiture proceedings and/or to Federal Court under the “Equitable Sharing” program. This practice has been seen as an unfair usurpation of the rights of the property owner to have a hearing in State Court and generally of Maryland State Sovereignty.
The second important part of the reform bill is the elimination of all inferences and presumptions that property is forfeitable when it is found in close proximity to CDS or when it is obtained by the owner during a time when it can be shown the owner was involved in drug usage or dealing. The burden will be on the State to prove that the property is forfeitable as either proceeds (profits) of drug crime or an instrumentality used to make drug crimes succeed (e.g., a car used to deliver or store drugs in sufficient quantity to indicate commercial intent).
Finally, the bill will require some record-keeping by police agencies that has never occurred in the past to monitor seizures and forfeitures and to help the Legislature obtain a grasp on the amounts of money and valuable property involved, where it goes after forfeiture and whether the owners are being treated fairly in court, etc.
Keep watching the Houlon Berman Facebook page and website for updates.