Hawaii needs civil asset forfeiture reform
The governor is threatening to veto reform of a police practice that abuses individual rights
News Release from Grassroot Institute
HONOLULU, June 27, 2019 >> Hawaii’s asset forfeiture laws are among the worst in the nation, and Gov. David Ige has a chance to correct that injustice, by allowing a reform measure approved by the 2019 state Legislature to go into law.
Earlier this week, the governor indicated he intends to veto the reform measure, HB748, which would prohibit asset forfeiture without a conviction, and put the proceeds of the forfeiture in the state general fund, rather than the budget of the local government or police department. Currently, Hawaii’s asset forfeiture laws allow police to take property without conviction of a crime.
Among the many supporters of asset forfeiture reform has been the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, which was heartened by the Legislature’s approval of meaningful reform.
“I am disappointed that Gov. Ige plans to block much-needed reform of Hawaii’s civil asset forfeiture laws, which trample on the individual property rights of Hawaii residents,” said Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D., Grassroot Institute of Hawaii president.
A 2018 report by the state auditor found that property in Hawaii was forfeited without a corresponding criminal charge in 26% of forfeiture cases closed during fiscal 2015. In 4 percent of the cases, property was forfeited despite the charge being dismissed.
“By introducing a higher standard for forfeiture, HB748 would take an important step in addressing many of the concerns raised in the audit,” Akina said. “Currently, there is nothing in the system preventing the abuse of asset forfeiture laws, making our residents vulnerable to corruption.”
In 2015, the national Institute of Justice ranked Hawaii’s forfeiture laws among the worst in the country because of the low standard of proof required for the government to show the property is tied to a crime, placing the burden on owners to prove their innocence.
"Hawaii residents deserve a transparent and clear program for asset forfeiture,” Akina said. “This is a time the governor needs to demonstrate real leadership in an area where the rights of Hawaii residents are being violated. Gov. Ige should uphold his promise to lead an honest and transparent government.”
The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit research and educational institution devoted to promoting individual liberty, economic freedom and accountable government.