Wyoming Liberty Group
Wyoming’s reform of civil asset forfeiture, which passed unanimously in the 2016 Budget Session, went into effect on July 1. Already, the reform has lived up to its name, which is illustrated by comparing two cash seizure cases—one that began before the reform, and one after.
CHEYENNE, WY –Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signed Senate File 46 this afternoon, which amends civil asset forfeiture under the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act. The bill passed the Wyoming Legislature with a final vote of 90-0. It implements a preliminary hearing for property owners, increases the evidence required to forfeit suspected drug property, and provides legal fees to property owners when the state fails to prove its case for forfeiture, among other changes.
On Wednesday the Joint Judiciary Committee of the Wyoming Legislature voted to adopt a committee bill to reform civil asset forfeiture under the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act (“WCSA”). The law as it exists today allows Wyoming police to seize and the state to keep (“forfeit”) property that they suspect is related to the drug trade, including cash, cars and firearms. Property owners do not have to be convicted or even charged with a crime. Although Wyoming has not abused this law to the levels witnessed in other states, there have been some very questionable cases that illustrate the current law’s threat to due process and property rights.
Earlier this week the Legislative Service Office released two draft bills written at the request of the Joint Judiciary Committee of the Wyoming Legislature. Each bill would amend civil asset forfeiture under the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act (“WCSA”) in distinct ways. The committee will consider both bills at its meeting in Gillette next week. Civil asset forfeiture is a process by which police seize property—in Wyoming, usually cash, cars and firearms—that they suspect is related to the drug trade. The property owner must then go to civil court and prove that the property is legitimate, or else the state keeps it. Such laws have faced bipartisan criticism nationwide over the last few years, and here in Wyoming the saga continues. (Our civil forfeiture tag links to much of our work on the issue.)
In the 2015 Wyoming Legislative Session, Senate File 14, or Senate Enrolled Act 1 (SEA 1), would have overhauled Wyoming’s drug forfeiture laws to require a felony conviction before alleged drug property (cash, cars, firearms and the like) could be permanently taken by the state. The bill passed the Wyoming Legislature with an initial total vote of 80-9 between both houses before it was vetoed by Governor Mead, then failed to muster the requisite votes to override the veto.