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W.Va. house committee axes bill to stop law enforcement property forfeitures


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State code allows law enforcement officers to claim ownership of property seized from criminal suspects without convicting them of a crime; the House Judiciary Committee axed a bill Monday that would have changed that.

House Bill 4615, the subject of two hours of committee review Friday evening, would require a criminal conviction or a guilty plea before law enforcement officials could claim ownership of assets seized during an arrest that are alleged to have been used in the commission of a crime.

Under current law, even if suspects are deemed not guilty in court or charges against them are dropped, they need to go through a separate legal process to have their seized property returned. Once property is forfeited, law enforcement authorities can use the funds to pad their budgets.

The committee recessed Friday evening at the request of the committee’s vice chairman, Delegate Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, for further review.

First thing Monday morning, House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, announced the bill would be sent to an interim committee after the legislative session for review, effectively burying it for 2018.

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