Civil Forfeitures in Ohio
Earlier this month, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed into law a bill that requires a criminal conviction before law enforcement can permanently deprive someone of personal property in a civil forfeiture state. This law makes Ohio one of only 11 states with protection in place for personal property when an individual is accused of a crime.
Under the law, law enforcement cannot seize property amounting to under $15,000 without first securing a criminal conviction. Setting a threshold for civil forfeiture cases should protect the majority of Ohioans who find themselves enmeshed in the criminal justice system for a variety of reasons. A study by the Institute for Justice in 2015 found that in Illinois and Minnesota half of the forfeiture cases involved amounts between $451 and $530. The amounts involved suggest that the majority of those individuals who have assets seized are not drug kingpins or parts of large, organized criminal enterprises.
The new law shifts the burden of proof from individuals accused of a crime to law enforcement officials. Not only will individuals no longer need to prove their innocence, the burden of proof on the State has also been increased. The State must now prove their case by “clear and convincing evidence” before permanently seizing property.
Ohio’s new forfeiture law will have a dramatic effect on law enforcement’s ability to seize and seek forfeitures on all property but particularly smaller items like weapons/firearms. Law enforcement will routinely seize firearms from vehicles when drugs are found anywhere, on any person, in said vehicle. The new law should prevent the unlawful seizure of weapons from an “innocent owner” who is not convicted of any criminal offense.