Tennessee bill would ensure truckers, others due process

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/21/2013

A Tennessee state lawmaker is pursuing changes to a practice that many people say is unfair to truckers and others traveling through the state.

A House subcommittee is reviewing 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.

Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, wants to 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.

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.

Nashville prosecutor John Zimmerman told the panel that Tennessee district attorneys want to work on reforms to the controversial law.

“I can speak for the DAs of this state that we are interested in doing whatever it takes to improve the asset forfeiture law to make it fair to both sides,” Zimmerman testified.

Rich is working with DAs on changes to the bill that would ensure that potentially innocent drivers get their due process.

“If you have property seized by the government, your first line of due process should be in front of a real judge, an elected judge,” Rich said.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee is expected to vote on HB1078 with changes on Tuesday, March 26.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Tennessee, click here.

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