Utah: Poll Shows Strong Support For Asset Forfeiture Reform On Eve Of Primary

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One out of 11 Surveyed Utah Voters Report Having Property Taken by Police without Criminal Charge from Themselves or Someone They Know

Utah Voters Also Signal Support for Presidential Candidates Who Embrace Asset Forfeiture Reform

An overwhelming majority of registered Utah voters support civil asset forfeiture reform, according to a new poll released by Drug Policy Action. The poll was released the day before Utah’s primary election vote.

Eighty-three percent (83%) of Utah registered voters, including 83 percent of all Republicans, think police should not be able to seize and permanently take away property from people who have not been convicted of a crime. Sixty-six percent (66%) of voters polled, including 70 percent of Republicans, would be more likely to support a candidate for president who took the position that the government should not be able to take property from a person who has not been convicted of a crime.

Also, a high number of surveyed Utah voters (1 out of 11) reported that a police officer has taken property from them or someone they know without being charged with a crime. Most of these respondents said that property was taken from them during a traffic stop.

“The notion that police officers can take property from people never charged with a crime doesn’t sit well with Utah voters,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for Drug Policy Action. “Our polling indicates that a strong majority of Utah voters are more likely to support a presidential candidate who favors civil asset forfeiture reform,” said Smith.

Other results of the Utah poll include:

• Seventy-one percent (71%) of voters, including 69 percent of Republicans, think police departments in Utah should not be able to keep the profits from the property they seize.
• Seventy-three percent (73%) of voters, including 70 percent of Republicans, disagree with the argument that police should be able to use the profits from the sale of seized property to purchase crime fighting equipment for the police department, even if property is seized from people who are never charged with or convicted of a crime.
• Seventy-seven percent (77%) of Utah respondents had not heard of “civil asset forfeiture laws” but 83 percent supported reform after hearing a description of civil asset forfeiture laws.

This year, the Utah Legislature considered a bill sponsored by State Representative Brian Greene that would have prevented the government from seizing property from people not charged with a crime. However, the measure faced opposition from government agencies and was recently tabled.

These poll results are very similar to poll results conducted by Drug Policy Action on the same subject in Florida March 7-8. More than 80 percent of registered voters in Florida oppose seizure of property without a criminal conviction. Sixty-six percent (66%) of registered Florida voters said they would be more likely to support a presidential candidate who took a position in favor of requiring a criminal conviction before property can be seized.

The Florida Legislature recently sent asset forfeiture reform legislation to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk for a signature. Both houses of the Florida Legislature passed the bill unanimously. The bill was supported by a diverse coalition of law enforcement and reform advocates.

In addition to Florida, there is considerable momentum for reform in states around the country. Lawmakers in California, Alaska, Hawaii, Ohio, Nebraska, Maryland and elsewhere are considering bills that reform civil asset forfeiture laws.

Wyoming recently enacted a bill that requires the state to prove the property’s connection to illegal activity before it could be forfeited, and New Mexico passed a sweeping bill last year that gives the state some of the strongest protections against wrongful seizures in the country.

“The breadth of enacted or proposed reforms demonstrate that legislators across the political spectrum are demanding an end to the status quo,” said Theshia Naidoo, senior staff attorney for Drug Policy Action. "This is an issue that unifies lawmakers from the left and the right to protect the public from governmental overreach."

Civil asset forfeiture begins when a federal, state or local law enforcement agency seizes property during a traffic stop or other encounter and takes legal action against the property seized from its owner by alleging that the seized property is connected in some way to illegal drugs or other criminal activity. Property owners do not need to be charged or convicted of a crime in order for law enforcement to seize property.

Federal civil asset forfeiture law also allows the government to seize and keep cash, cars, real estate, and any other property from persons without any proof of criminal wrongdoing. In the 1970s and 1980s, Congress expanded the use of civil asset forfeiture by federal, state and local law enforcement in the name of fighting the war on drugs.

Numerous law enforcement agencies took advantage of these expanded policies to profit from the confiscation of cash and other property from unsuspecting citizens.

The poll of 565 registered Utah voters was conducted March 7-8 by Public Policy Polling.