New Tennessee law intended to protect due process

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, May 23, 2013

A new law in Tennessee is supposed to do away with an unfair practice to truckers and others traveling through the state. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2014.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law 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 the change is warranted 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.

Previously SB891, Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, said the new law will 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 new rule forbids “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 individuals, their property must be returned immediately.

Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, said the new law re-establishes 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,” Shipley said during recent discussion at the statehouse.

Critics caution about a loophole that allows law enforcement to bypass state seizure laws and instead take the money to the feds. A local media report says that the federal process can take more than six months to play out.

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

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