- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Wednesday that will make it tougher for prosecutors and law enforcement to seize cash and property from people suspected of a crime, effectively overhauling the state’s civil forfeiture laws despite opposition from state prosecutors.

Ducey signed the measure after being caught between the state legislature and county prosecutors.

House Bill 2477 by Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth is meant to reform rules dictating when prosecutors can seize someone’s assets. Officers can currently seize property based on suspicion alone without the need of a conviction or a charge. Police and prosecutors acquire Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization or RICO funds after seized property is forfeited.

The governor commended Farnsworth for his work on the legislation and Arizona lawmakers’ bipartisan support of it in a written statement.

“This bill will allow law enforcement to take appropriate action against drug cartels and other criminal enterprises, while ensuring citizens do not have their property seized without proper due process,” Ducey said in the statement.

The bill has support from diverse groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

The measure will change Arizona’s civil asset forfeiture laws to require prosecutors to prove property was involved in a crime by “clear and convincing” evidence, a step above the current standard.

Farnsworth has said RICO laws have deviated from their original intent to pursue big criminal enterprises like cartels and are now hitting smaller time infractions. He has said his bill will increase accountability through its reporting requirements and redirect the laws to fulfill their actual purpose.

Opponents say the changes would cause logistical issues for county boards of supervisors and county attorneys. They also criticize the bill’s further standard of proof and the claim that excessive seizures take place.

The governor’s approval comes after recent inquiries into whether officials in Pinal County have misused seizure profits and a guilty plea from a former top Pima County official to misusing RICO funds in February.

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