Under Maryland’s draconian “civil forfeiture” laws, people do not have to be convicted, or even charged with a crime, to permanently lose their cash, cars or other valuables. Once their property has been seized, spouses, parents and other innocent owners actually have to go to court and prove that they are innocent of any wrongdoing.
Thankfully, Maryland lawmakers are working to rectify this injustice. Last month, the Maryland General Assembly not only voted to override a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan from last year, but also saw new legislation unveiled that further protects due process rights.
First, SB 528, the subject of the veto override, applies the presumption of innocence to civil forfeiture cases. It requires that the state prove that property owners violated the law or knowingly let their property be used in crimes. Prior to the law, Maryland, along with 34 other states and the federal government, typically placed the burden of proof onto the owner, rather than the government, in civil forfeiture cases.
The new law also prevents law enforcement from forfeiting cash under $300, unless they can prove it is related to the drug trade. For those living paycheck to paycheck, and who have broken no law, an unjust seizure by the government can prove devastating.