Crime commission scraps asset forfeiture bill

The authority of law enforcement agencies in Virginia to cash in assets seized as a result of criminal investigations, even if the suspects have not been convicted, remains unchallenged after a vote by the Virginia State Crime Commission.

The commission voted 9-3 last week to reject proposed legislation that would have prevented law enforcement from converting currency and personal property into funding sources until a suspect is convicted and his appeals decided.

The practice, commonly known as asset forfeiture, has allowed police agencies throughout the state and nation to obtain millions of dollars that are used for specially designated law enforcement purposes.

Critics of the asset forfeiture process argue that it provides police with an incentive to place a higher priority on investigations that are likely to generate more revenue for law enforcement agencies than crimes that are less lucrative but more worthy of their attention.

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, was one of three members of the commission who voted for the proposal.

Gilbert said in an interview Wednesday that the worst abuses of asset forfeiture happen on the federal level. But Gilbert said suspects found not guilty in the state court system also need to be protected against actions that can strip them of thousands of dollars in assets with little hope of recovering them after their cases are resolved.

“I just think the public expects you have to be convicted of a crime before the government can claim your property, and I think that’s a reasonable expectation that people have,” Gilbert said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com