VITAL POLICY – Maine Repeals Civil Asset Forfeiture, Tennessee Struggles to Protect Property Rights

After decades of attempts, the Tennessee General Assembly continues to work around the margins to reform civil asset forfeiture. By comparison, the state of Maine is now the fourth state to abolish civil forfeiture and replace it with the constitutional model of criminal asset forfeiture.

Civil asset forfeiture is the process by which government can seize and forfeit private property under the “suspicion” that the property was used in the commission of a crime. Once property is seized, the owner must navigate an awfully expensive and bureaucratic “administrative” process to see their property returned, a legal process that almost guarantees that the fight is not worth the trouble. In a 19-year period, the state of Tennessee seized and forfeited over one hundred forty-six million dollars ($146,862,776) worth of private property and cash, most of which consisted of property seizures under $2500.

State Representative Jerry Sexton (R- Bean Station) is viewed as a hero to the constitutional activists that are working to reform Tennessee’s appalling set of statutes that govern forfeitures. Sexton’s most recent success was grounded in Public Chapter 423, a public act that raises the limit on attorney fees to enable citizens to better afford and retain legal counsel to fight civil forfeitures.

The state of Maine has all but abolished civil forfeiture, with exceptions for property owners that are deceased or have abandoned their property.

Activists such as Justin Cornett, President of For All Tennessee, have pledged to work with state legislators to reform forfeiture laws. Josh Eakle and Claire Ball serve as Executive Director and Board Member of For All Tennessee, respectively. Many constitutional experts tout criminal asset forfeiture as the preferred replacement for civil asset forfeiture.

Source: David Seal is a retired Jefferson County educator, as well as a recognized artist and local businessman. He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband accessibility on the state level.