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Nick Sibilla at the Institute for Justice reports:

A new bill under consideration in Hawaii’s state senate would expand asset forfeiture to include petty misdemeanors.  Under Hawaii state law, petty misdemeanors are usually punished by up to 30 days in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.  But if SB 1342 passes, petty misdemeanors would join murder and theft as offenses that are subject to property forfeiture.  It would also raise a ton of new legal questions: for disorderly conduct, could stereos and iPods be seized if someone’s music is too loud?  Could someone lose his car if he is caught speeding or driving under the influence?

In submitted testimony, the Hawaii chapter of the ACLU posits that applying asset forfeiture to petty misdemeanors like trespassing could lead to all sorts of ridiculously-cruel consequences.  Homeless people could lose their property if they camp out in a park after hours.  Protestors could have their signs, petitions and other assets seized—a chilling effect on the First Amendment.

The bill is backed by Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources as a way to protect “natural, cultural, historical and recreational resources.”  The Department also argues that fines and other penalties are “not a sufficient deterrent.”  But including asset forfeiture as a punishment is excessive.  Indeed, Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth has lambasted the bill as “draconian.”  Meanwhile, state Sen. Russell Ruderman called SB 1342 “outrageous,” telling Big Island Now that “we should have more safeguards, not less, to protect people from forfeiture abuses.”

Hawaii’s forfeiture regime is one of the worst in the nation, with law enforcement receiving 100% of the proceeds of forfeiture. In their 2010 “Policing for Profit” report, the Institute for Justice graded Hawaii’s forfeiture statute a “D”, noting that:

The state may forfeit your property by showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was used in a crime.  Unfortunately, if you are an innocent owner and believe your property was wrongly seized, you bear the burden of proof.  Law enforcement has a strong incentive to seize property, as they receive 100 percent of the funds raised through civil forfeiture.


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