By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A policy change announced this week by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn't likely to greatly increase seizure of cash, cars or other property of people suspected of crimes but not charged, a New Hampshire federal prosecutor said.
Such seizures, known as civil asset forfeiture, are allowed under some circumstances in the federal court system. In New Hampshire state court cases, property can't be seized unless there is a conviction.
The policy change by Sessions would potentially give state and local prosecutors a work-around, allowing them to use federal civil asset forfeiture laws instead of operating under the more restrictive state statute.
However, this isn't likely to happen very frequently, said Rob Rabuck, an assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire.
He said there is a policy preference within the Justice Department that forfeiture procedures, should “follow the prosecution,” or be handled under the rules governing the prosecutor.
“My expectation would be that if a case is prosecuted in the state system, any forfeiture should be done as part of that system,” he said.
If the case is prosecuted in the federal system, federal rules would apply.
The new policy could have impact in specific cases. It could, for example, make it easier to undertake federal civil asset forfeiture proceedings in cases that began in state court and are later transferred to federal court.
Rules for federal civil asset forfeiture require a showing that the property seized represents proceeds from a crime or was used to facilitate a crime.
Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said federal, state and local law enforcement work closely on serious criminal cases, particularly involving dangerous opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil.
She her office would discuss the new policy with U.S. Attorney's office.
“We see it as a positive,” she said.
Rep. Mike Sylvia, R-Belmont, said his House Bill 614, pending in the state Legislature, would prohibit New Hampshire law enforcement agencies or prosecutors from entering into agreements to transfer seized property to a federal agency unless it includes more than $100,000 in cash.
He has due process concerns about the federal system allowing seizure of assets before conviction. He feels greater protections are needed to make sure state and local prosecutors don't use that system as a way to avoid the state law requiring conviction before property seizure.
Sylvia said law enforcement can become overly focused on seizing money when this money is used to support their own operations.
“It's just a bad idea to let law enforcement fund themselves,” he said. “That's banana republic stuff.”
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