An effort to end a practice in Tennessee that many people say is unfair to truckers and others traveling through the state is one step closer to passage.
A House subcommittee voted unanimously on Tuesday, March 26, to advance a bill that is intended to rein in “civil asset forfeiture.” The practice allows police to take cash or property from people pulled over along roadsides without charging them with a crime.
Supporters say changes are needed to the rule in order to stop law enforcement agencies from seizing money, vehicles and other property based on mere suspicion that the property is related to criminal activity. They point out that in some instances thousands of dollars worth of property or cash is seized, yet the property owner is never charged with a crime.
Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, wants to ensure that innocent drivers get their due process. His bill would allow people whose money or property has been confiscated by police to get an immediate hearing before a judge, instead of having to wait months.
“Citizens will have a real hearing, in front of a real judge, real fast,” Rich told lawmakers before the vote.
Specifically, the bill would forbid “ex parte” hearings. The practice prevents individuals from getting a hearing before a judge to determine whether law enforcement had probable cause to take their property.
Instead, individuals would be able to go before a judge and tell their side of the story, as well as present evidence to support their claim. The judge would listen to both sides and make a decision. If the judge rules in favor of the individual, their property must be returned immediately.
“At the end of the day, it gives the people of Tennessee, and the people of this country driving through Tennessee, an opportunity to have due process in a quick manner,” Rich said.
The bill – HB1078 – awaits consideration in the House Criminal Justice Committee.
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