Tennessee due process protection moves to governor

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, April 22, 2013

A bill headed to the Tennessee governor’s desk would do away with an unfair practice to truckers and others traveling through the state.

House lawmakers voted unanimously to approve 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.

The Senate already approved the bill by unanimous consent. SB891 now awaits Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature.

Supporters say changes are needed to the rule 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, says the bill would help ensure that innocent drivers get their due process. People who have money or property confiscated by police would get an immediate hearing before a judge, instead of having to wait months.

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.

Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, said that government entities shouldn’t be able to take property without proof of illegal activity.

“You should have the right to carry whatever amount of money you want to because it’s yours. You can burn it up if you want to,” Towns told House lawmakers before the vote.

Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport said the bill reestablishes the trust between government and the people of Tennessee.

 “This bill is a remarkable start in the right direction in protecting our citizens from the overreach of government.”

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

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