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Indiana lawmakers seek changes to laws on property seizure

January 22, 2017

Indiana lawmakers are pushing to change a law that allows the government in some cases to take the personal property of a citizen.

Eight bills have been submitted this legislative session to reform the state's civil forfeiture law, The Indianapolis Star reported. The practice raises millions of dollars each year for local law enforcement agencies around the state.

The overhaul measures range from allowing the seizure of property only after a person is convicted of a crime to restricting the way proceeds from civil forfeitures are used. One calls for a change in the way criminal organizations' property is seized, and another calls for a study on the best practices for reforming forfeiture laws.

"I don't know why no one has done this here before," said state Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, co-sponsor on one of the bills.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, a Democrat, has advised caution.

"We believe it would be most prudent for the legislature to defer any action on this issue and address significant misconceptions regarding forfeiture in a summer study committee," Curry said.

While law enforcement officials believe civil forfeiture is a key tool in fighting illegal drugs, critics say it abuses private property rights and leads to "policing for profits."

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he sees any reform as a balancing act.

"It's important for the legislature to support our prosecutors in their war against drug dealers and other criminal activity, but we have to be vigilant in protecting the constitutional rights of all Hoosiers as well," he said.

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