Asset Forfeiture Reform in Rhode Island

Building off the successful “Justice Reinvestment” reforms that were enacted in by Rhode Island lawmakers in 2017, the state’s asset forfeiture laws should next come under scrutiny, as they can often lead to the unfettered government seizure of cars, cash, and other private property. While many policymakers might assume that such laws are directed at criminals, in reality, simply being accused of a crime or violating a regulation may be sufficient for the state to take your property. There is growing momentum around the country, and here in the Ocean State, to address this kind of big government overreach.
Rhode Island was recently graded at a (D-) in a national report by the Institute for Justice for its weak civil forfeiture laws, which, nationally, have led to some of the most egregious infringements of private property rights in the U.S. today. In the past 12 years, over $17 million of private property has been seized in our state.
Rhode Island law sets a very low bar on the front-end by allowing the government to seize property on the mere basis of criminal suspicion and for non-criminal regulatory violations. If you don’t hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit to reclaim your own property, you soon lose it. On the back-end, Rhode Island also sets a very high bar for innocent property owners to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. Further, state law allows the government agency that seized your property to keep the majority of it as a means to supplement their own budgets, creating a perverse incentive to violate due process and property rights.
In our January 2018 Right To Earn a Living report, we advocated that civil asset forfeiture reforms would improve the State’s poorly ranked business climate, by raising the bar for asset forfeiture from businesses and individuals as well as to adopt better forfeiture administration. Click here now to learn more on Unelected bureaucrats in state and local agencies should not be empowered to manage profits from asset forfeitures or be free from public accountability. Legitimately seized money goes to the state’s general fund where duly elected officials decide if and how to redistribute them. Your voice can make the difference in fighting for better asset reform in the Ocean State.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I think I have previously mentioned that a friend bought a seized Porsche off a Massachusetts police department. He reports that no one wanted to look him in the eye and he had an extremely difficult time getting anyone to sign the paperwork he needed to get a title.

    A number of years ago, I went to a DEA auction of seized cars in Stoughton, Massachusett6s. It was mostly banged up old Buicks. On inquiry, one of the Marshalls offered that the good ones “never get to the public”. I didn’t press for an explanation.

  • Monique Chartier

    This practice is .. I mean, not a little but blatantly, outrageously unconstitutional. How has it not been knocked down 9-0 by the Supreme Court years ago???

    • Rhett Hardwick

      I understand the feds have scaled their seizure laws way back. They were not unaware of cops “sugaring” cars with drugs, etc. I think “cash” is still in trouble. If I understood the marshal referred to above, the game is this. When the feds auction seized property, local governmental agencies have “priority” over the public. So the “property” goes to a local agency, which is then, somehow, able to “dispose” of it without an auction.

      It is always well to remember that cops are about eight times more likely than a “civilian” to commit a felony. That may just be a question of opportunity. Recall the goings on in the Providence P.D. under Cianci.

    • Merle The Monster
  • Chip

    If individual is convicted,seize the ill-gotten gains. If the individual hid assets, then charge him for that also. Also, prosecute anyone that participates in the hiding of assets. Do not screw around with due process.