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Forfeiture law

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Jefferson County lawmakers should drop their proposal to allow authorities to seize property for misdemeanor drug and gun crimes.

The Legislature had been expected to set a public hearing on the proposal, but instead sent it back to committee for further consideration after questions were raised about the plan.

The proposed law expands on the current practice of seizing property for more serious felony crimes by permitting police to confiscate cash, cars or other property used in low-level misdemeanor crimes. The property could then be sold with the funds going to the county to pay for law enforcement activities. That would be a steep penalty for publicly possessing a single marijuana cigarette or having a set of scales in the car.

Will police seize the car when a county legislator is charged with DWI?

Lawmakers discussed ways to make the proposed law more acceptable, such as limiting it to higher-level Class A drug and gun misdemeanors and procedural safeguards that would allow the property owner to challenge the seizure. The law, though, potentially punishes innocent people whose property was unknowingly used in a crime and could lead to arbitrary decisions on whose property to seize.

More to the point, the law, as an added punishment, steps in where the state should be acting. Sentences for crimes are set by the state and are established in the penal code to guide the prosecution and courts. They apply across the state, not county by county. If loss of property is part of the punishment, then the state should determine the severity of the penalty. This is a matter that belongs in the state Legislature, not the county Legislature.

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