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Gov. Burgum signs civil asset forfeiture reform bill

The North Dakota State Capitol. Forum News Service file photo

BISMARCK — Gov. Doug Burgum on Thursday, May 2, signed the last 53 bills remaining from the 2019 North Dakota legislative session, including one reforming civil asset forfeiture.

Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, brought the original bill to eliminate the "perverse incentive" of "policing for profit." Civil asset forfeiture applies to property involved in crime.

The bill evolved greatly over lawmakers' 76-day session, which ended April 26, with extensive work from the House Judiciary Committee before its smoother Senate passage.

A number of components came into the reform, including raising the evidentiary standard for forfeiture from preponderance of the evidence to clear and convincing evidence.

The bill requires reporting from courts, prosecutors and the attorney general and allows interjurisdictional prosecution and for city and county commissions to oversee a fund of forfeiture proceeds.

There is also a proportionality test to not forfeit property worth in excess of a criminal penalty, as addressed in a U.S. Supreme Court opinion handed down as the bill first passed the House in February.

Perhaps the biggest change is the reform's conviction requirement for forfeiture proceedings, which are a separate, civil matter.

But the conviction requirement has exceptions, such as death, deportation, disappearance, abandoned property and evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of property's criminal involvement.

Law enforcement and prosecutors opposed the conviction requirement in Becker's original bill as some crimes cannot land convictions, such as for absconded drug dealers whose cash is seized.

Becker voted against his bill on Friday in its final House passage, opposing its reporting components and exception of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. He has said there may be a ballot initiative in 2020 to further address civil asset forfeiture.

The new law takes effect Aug. 1.

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