Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed a bill on Tuesday that eliminates civil forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize and keep property without filing charges or securing criminal convictions. The bill, LB 1106, passed the unicameral legislature last week by a vote of 38 to 8.
Civil forfeiture has ensnared a wide swath of victims in Nebraska. A Peruvian pastor once had $14,000 seized during a traffic stop. Only after the local chapter of the ACLU intervened was he able to recover his cash. Last year, a federal appellate court upheld forfeiting more than $63,000 in savings from a decorated Air Force veteran, even though he was never charged with a crime.
The newly signed law provides sweeping reforms. First and foremost, Nebraska now requires a criminal conviction to forfeit property. The accused must be convicted of an offense involving illegal drugs, child pornography or illegal gambling to lose their cash, vehicles, firearms or real estate. Nebraska joins just nine other states that require a criminal conviction as a prerequisite for most or all forfeiture cases. Following North Carolina and New Mexico, Nebraska is now the third state largely without civil forfeiture. In addition to the criminal conviction requirement, LB 1106 also enacts new reporting requirements for seizures and forfeitures.