New Hampshire House Approves Bill to Close Federal Forfeiture Loophole

Today, the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed HB 614, which would close a loophole in forfeiture law. Sponsored by Rep. Michael Sylvia, the bill would ban transferring or referring seized property to a federal agency or joint task force through the “equitable sharing” program, unless the property is cash over $100,000. The bill would not prevent state and local agencies from seizing contraband or property believed to have criminal ties.

“Last year, New Hampshire strengthened safeguards for property owners fighting forfeiture, and now requires a criminal conviction before property can be forfeited,” explained Institute for Justice Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath. “But those protections are completely lacking under federal forfeiture law.”

“Under equitable sharing, New Hampshire agencies have routinely outsourced forfeiture litigation to the federal government, even if that would circumvent state law,” he added. “By closing this loophole, HB 614 is a vital measure that will protect the property rights of New Hampshirites and preserve the state’s sovereignty from federal overreach.”

A report by the Institute for Justice found that from 2000 to 2013, New Hampshire law enforcement agencies collected over $15 million in proceeds from equitable sharing. By comparison, that was more than 10 times as much police and prosecutors received under state forfeiture law.

In recent years, 92 percent of all forfeitures under equitable sharing involved property valued at less than $100,000, according to data analysis by IJ. Yet those forfeitures accounted for only 22 percent of the total value.

“HB 614 strikes the right balance by protecting the vast majority of property owners who will still face forfeiture, but under the state’s more protective laws, while still recognizing concerns voiced by many state legislators about the sale of opiates by large, interstate drug cartels,” McGrath said.

If HB 614 is signed into law, New Hampshire would bolster its status as a pioneer for forfeiture reform. The Granite State is just one of 12 states that require a criminal conviction for most or all forfeiture cases. Only five states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to close the equitable-sharing loophole.