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Jefferson County legislators set public hearing for property forfeiture law

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The Jefferson County Board of Legislators will set a public hearing for Nov. 13 on a law to permit authorities to confiscate cash or property used in misdemeanor drug or gun crimes.

Not all legislators are on board with the idea, but supporters say enough safeguards are in place to prevent police and the district attorney from abusing the practice.

Right now, authorities can seize and keep property used in certain felony crimes, but if the board passes a local law, it will join several other counties in the state in being able to seize and keep property that belonged to those charged with certain misdemeanors. Felony crimes are more serious, and carry more severe punishments, than misdemeanor crimes.

“I think we have enough laws now,” said Legislator Michael Behling, R-Adams, a vocal critic of the expansion. “We shouldn’t add to them at the cost of freedom from seizure of property.”

County officials could sell cars or other forfeited property, and any money that comes into county accounts must go toward law enforcement activities.

The Board of Legislators’ Health and Human Services Committee recommended a resolution Tuesday night scheduling the public hearing, and it will be up for consideration again at the full board meeting Tuesday at the board’s chambers, 195 Arsenal St. Mr. Behling said he hopes the law’s opponents and supporters come to the public hearing.

Supporters of the law say they trust District Attorney Cindy Intschert to use it wisely.

Mr. Behling appears to believe the law’s passage is inevitable, but he wants to be on the record as against it so that when “somebody’s really complaining who the bozos were who passed this thing, I can look back and say, ‘You’ll see where I voted no on it and spoke against it.’”

Other lawmakers, such as Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, are more sanguine about what the law could mean for Jefferson County. The law came up in the context of the rise in synthetic drug use. Those charged with synthetic drug crimes also could have their property taken away.

“I think it provides a deterrent,” Mr. Gray said. “If it doesn’t serve as a deterrent, it will serve as useful to law enforcement for those that try to operate just under the felony level.”

Mr. Gray added that to take a perpetrator’s property, the county would have to go through several steps, including getting permission from a court.

“It has to be very conclusive that they have reason to follow through on the forfeiture,” Mr. Gray said.

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