PHOENIX — Rebuffing prosecutors and sheriffs, Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Wednesday to make it more difficult for them to seize property.
“Reforms have been needed in this area for some time,” the governor said in a prepared statement.
Ducey was not alone in his assessment: Only Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, voted against the measure.
The new law will require prosecutors to provide “clear and convincing evidence” to a judge that property is connected to criminal activity before they can seize it. That means either it was used as part of a crime or it was acquired with proceeds from criminal activity.
That is more rigorous than the current standard, which allows seizure based on “preponderance of the evidence.” The lowest of standards, it means only that it is more likely than not the property is linked to a crime.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who crafted the changes, said the new standard is appropriate as there is no requirement that someone be convicted of a crime — or even charged — before prosecutors can try to take property.
The change, which takes effect later this year, also will remove some disincentives that now exist for people to challenge the government if they contend their property was wrongly seized.
Under the current law, property owners are responsible for their own legal fees, even if they win. It makes no sense, Farnsworth said, to have to hire an attorney for $20,000 to recover a vehicle that might be worth half that much.
The other change eliminates the possibility that a property owner who fights forfeiture and loses could be on the hook for the government’s costs and legal fees.
Prosecutors and sheriffs from throughout the state had sought a veto.
Ducey, however, said, “As public servants, we are entrusted with not only protecting public safety but also the rights guaranteed to every citizen of this great state and nation. Today’s important legislation strikes an appropriate balance between enabling law enforcement to do their jobs while upholding civil liberties.”
He was not swayed by prosecutors’ claims it will undermine the ability to fight crime.