Nov 8, 2015 11:40 AM

Some NH lawmakers pushing for reform of state's civil forfeiture rules

CONCORD - Lawmakers are taking a second shot a changing the state's civil forfeiture law in the upcoming legislative session.

According to the Union Leader, supporters of the reform want to make conviction mandatory before assets can be taken by law enforcement agencies, and they want the money to go into the state's general fund instead of to local police departments.

Under civil forfeiture, if someone is arrested or even suspected of a crime, law enforcement can seize assets and petition to keep them in civil court, where the standard of proof is much lower than in a criminal court.

Police departments and the state attorney general's office have long opposed changes to the law and successfully defeated a reform effort in 2011.

“We don't object to the need for a criminal conviction before forfeiture could take place,” Senior Assistant Attorney General James Vera said. “The issue, frankly, is where the money is going.”

Although $1 million or more can be seized in any given year, most of that is seized by federal law enforcement agencies. New Hampshire nets only about $50,000 to $60,000 a year.

Police say they need the locally-generated forfeiture money to identify and arrest drug dealers.

“To do an undercover investigation and get a prosecution, you usually have to make at least three buys. You take the money from a forfeiture case and reinvest it into the next case,” said Tilton Police Chief Robert Cormier, president of the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police.

He's not sure the state can be counted on to provide the necessary funds for undercover drug purchases if the forfeiture money goes into the general fund.

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