Maine became the fourth state to abolish civil forfeiture, a practice that enables law enforcement to confiscate millions of dollars worth of property without ever filing criminal charges. Taking effect on Tuesday without the governor’s signature, LD 1521 fully repeals Maine’s civil forfeiture laws, while simultaneously bolstering its criminal forfeiture process, which only authorizes forfeiture after a criminal conviction (apart from a few narrow circumstances, like the owner’s death or deportation).
Although civil forfeiture is typically defended as a way to fight back against drug kingpins, in reality, many forfeiture cases have been remarkably petty. In Maine, half of all cash forfeitures were under $1,670.
“It’s a very simple concept; you don’t lose your property unless you used it in the commission of a crime, or knowingly allowed someone else to use it in the commission of a crime,” bill sponsor Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham wrote in May testimony supporting his bill. “It is time to end this work around that makes people prove innocence, rather than prosecutors proving guilt. This is one of the founding principles of our country.”