Jefferson County will consider allowing police to take a perpetrators property, such as cash and cars, if it is connected to drug crimes even misdemeanors like the open possession of marijuana.
Right now, authorities in Jefferson County can make drug felons forfeit personal property. But police cant permanently take property from those who commit misdemeanors, which are less serious crimes than felonies.
The idea for a new local law to expand the number of crimes subject to property forfeiture encountered resistance and support at a county Board of Legislators meeting on Tuesday night, where a discussion of a synthetic drug law was dominated by the question of taking private property used in drug crimes.
Were not the wild, wild west, said Legislator Michael W. Behling, R-Adams, who urged the Board of Legislators to stick with the state standards that allow property forfeiture for drug felons only.
Mr. Behling argued that expanding the type of crime for which a perpetrator can lose personal effects is a step too far. Legislator Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, also signaled some concern about the measure.
If property connected to drug crimes is forfeited, the county can sell or destroy it. The county can take property for misdemeanor crimes now only if its evidence in a crime, not just something used in a crime.
District Attorney Cindy F. Intschert told legislators that authorities cant simply keep a persons possessions on a whim. People whose property is taken can appeal the decision. And a court magistrate has to approve taking the property, which must be based on the property having been used or been a result of the drug crime. For example, under the proposal, if a car were instrumental in the misdemeanor drug crime, authorities could take it. Other jurisdictions around the state allow police to take property in misdemeanor crimes, Ms. Intschert said.
Misdemeanor drug crimes include the public possession of marijuana for example, a joint behind the ear.
Legislator James A. Nabywaniec, R-Calcium, told Mr. Behling he was receptive to his criticism, but added: We need to put as much teeth in (the drug laws) as possible.
And the person who proposed the idea, Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, said fellow legislators fears were unfounded.
For forfeiture to be used it will have to go through three levels of authority: the police agency, the DA and the magistrate, Mr. Gray noted. The chances of it being misused are, in my opinion, slim.
Several years ago, the Board of Legislators rejected a similar law because it would have allowed police to take property in alcohol-related crimes, too. The alcohol provision was not included in the proposed local law that came up for consideration Tuesday night.
After more than a half an hour of discussion on the forfeiture question, the Board of Legislators stripped it from the synthetic drug law that was up for consideration. Separately, legislators agreed to take up the broader seizure and forfeiture laws for misdemeanor drug crimes through the committee process instead of passing it on the night it was proposed.
The board set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Oct. 2 at the boards chambers, 195 Arsenal St., for the separate synthetic drug law, which will make the sale and possession of synthetic drugs illegal in the county.
Synthetic drugs are sold under names such as bath salts, glass cleaner and butterfly or lady bug attractors. When humans consume them, they have the same effect as narcotics, and federal and state laws have been slow to catch up to the ever-changing chemical formulas.
The local law would expand the list of chemical formulas listed under misdemeanor sale and possession charges, and would also generally outlaw substances that mimic the effect of substances like marijuana, crack cocaine and other drugs. Jefferson County authorities cant enforce federal laws on synthetic drugs, and the state Legislature has yet to pass a comprehensive one.
In other action Tuesday night, the board approved contracts for its CSEA and sheriffs deputies unions. The four-year contracts include pay raises and additional health-care contributions from employees. The unions already approved the contracts, which were past due.