Washington State Bill (HB 1269) Would Reform Asset Forfeiture Laws, Take First Step to Close Federal Loophole

A bill introduced in the Washington House would modestly reform the state’s asset forfeiture laws and set the stage to close a loophole that allows state and local police to circumvent more strict state forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the feds.

Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley), Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) and Rep. Bob McCaslin (R-Spokane Valley) introduced House Bill 1269 (HB1269) on Jan. 17.  The legislation would take several steps to reform Washington’s asset forfeiture laws. While the state could still seize assets without a criminal conviction, HB1269 would increase protection for property owners and place the burden of proof squarely on prosecutors. The proposed law would make several changes to current asset forfeiture law, explicitly providing that the burden of proof is on the seizing agency; allowing prevailing claimants to recover attorneys’ fees, expenses, and damages for loss of use of property; requiring that, when ordered to return property, the seizing agency return it in the same or substantially similar condition as when seized; and making all seizing agencies subject to detailed reporting requirements.