posted on the FEAR website 4-12-00
The following is the actual text of proceedings
in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 11, 2000, as reported in
the Congressional Record
beginning at page H2046. Additional page references appear in square brackets below. FEAR obtained this Congressional Record transcript from the thomas website and cleaned up some obvious html formatting problems, making no changes in the text.
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Hyde) and the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson-Lee) each will control 20 minutes.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Hyde).
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Illinois?
There was no objection.
Mr. HYDE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
(Mr. HYDE asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. HYDE. Mr. Speaker, this bill represents the culmination of a 7-year effort to reform our Nation's civil asset forfeiture laws. We would not be here today without the momentum generated by the House's passage of H.R. 1658 last June by the overwhelming vote of 375-48. That vote was made possible by the tireless support of my colleagues, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Conyers), the ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary; the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Barr); and the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Frank) and their staffs.
House passage was also made possible by the support of a multitude of organizations who put aside their differences to work toward a common goal: the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Americans for Tax Reform, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Rifle Association, the American Bar Association, the National Association of Realtors, the Credit Union National Association, the American Bankers Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the National Association of Home Builders, the Boat Owners Association of the United States, United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Apartment Association, the American Hotel and Motel Association, and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America.
H.R. 1658 only got us through the House. Forfeiture reform would not have become a reality had the cause not been adopted by Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary; and Pat Leahy, the committee's ranking member. I owe a debt of gratitude to the Senators and their staffs for succeeding in crafting a bill that could get through the Senate and yet retain all the necessary elements of reform.
I must thank Senators Sessions and Schumer and their staffs for negotiating in the utmost good faith in helping craft a bill that both reforms our forfeiture laws and yet leaves civil forfeitures as an important crime-fighting tool for Federal, State, and local law enforcement.
Similar thanks must go to Attorney General Reno and Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben. They can all be proud of what they helped to accomplish.
I also must thank our former colleague Bob Bauman and Brenda Grantland of Forfeiture Endangers American Rights for their long and dedicated work on behalf of forfeiture reform, and Chicago Tribune columnist Stephen Chapman for first alerting me to the great abuses of forfeiture laws.
And I must thank David Smith, who has been there since the beginning. David helped me draft my first forfeiture reform bill, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 1993, and helped draft Senators Leahy's and Hatch's reform bill and helped draft the Senate-passed bill we are considering today. This bill is truly his accomplishment.
And finally, George Fishman of our Committee on the Judiciary staff has been tireless in helping shepherd this legislation through the House and Senate.
Let me briefly outline the main points of H.R. 1658 as passed by the Senate. The bill makes eight fundamental reforms:
(1) The bill requires the Government to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture. Currently, when a property owner goes to Federal court to challenge a seizure of property, all the Government needs to do is make an initial showing of probable cause that the property is subject to civil forfeiture. The owner then must establish that the property is innocent.
(2) The bill provides that if the Government's theory of forfeiture is that the property was used to commit or facilitate the commission of a crime or was involved in the commission of a crime, the Government must show that there was a substantial connection between the property and the crime.
(3) The bill provides that property can be released by a Federal court pending final disposition of a civil forfeiture case if continued possession by the Government would cause the property owner substantial hardship, such as preventing the functioning of a business or leaving an individual homeless, and the likely hardship outweighs the risks that the property will be destroyed, damaged, lost, concealed or transferred if returned to the owner.
(4) The bill provides that property owners who substantially prevail in court proceedings challenging the seizure of their property will receive reasonable attorney's fees. In addition, the bill allows a court to provide counsel for indigents if they are represented by appointed counsel in related criminal cases. Currently, property owners who successfully challenge the seizure of their property almost never are awarded attorney's fees. In addition, indigents have no right to appointed counsel in civil forfeiture cases.
(5) The bill eliminates the cost bond requirement, under which a property owner must now post a bond of the lesser of $5,000 or 10 percent of the value of the property seized merely for the right to contest a civil forfeiture in Federal court. The bill provides that if a court finds that a claimant's assertion of an interest in property was frivolous, the court may impose a civil fine.
(6) The bill creates a uniform innocent owner defense for all Federal civil forfeiture statutes. Importantly, the defense protects property owners who have given timely notice to the police of the illegal use of their property and have in a timely fashion revoked or made a good faith attempt to revoke permission to use the property from those engaging in the illegal conduct.
(7) The bill allows property owners to sue the Federal Government for compensation for damage to their property when they prevail in civil forfeiture actions. Currently, the Federal Government is exempt from liability for damage caused during the handling or storage of property being detained by law enforcement officers.
(8) The bill provides a uniform definition of the forfeitable proceeds of criminal acts. In cases involving illegal goods or services, unlawful activities and telemarketing and health care fraud schemes, proceeds are properties obtained directly or indirectly as a result of the commission of the offenses giving rise to forfeiture, and any properties traceable thereto, and are not limited to the net gain or profit realized from the offenses. In cases involving lawful goods or services that are sold or provided in an illegal manner, proceeds are money acquired through the illegal transactions less the direct costs incurred in providing the goods or services.
H.R. 1658 also contains a number of provisions addressing the needs of the Justice Department and State and local law enforcement.
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This bill is one we can all be proud of. It returns civil asset forfeiture to the ranks of respected law enforcement tools that can be used without risk to the civil liberties and property rights of American citizens. We are all better off that this is so.
Mr. Speaker, I insert into the Record at this point a Congressional
Budget Office letter on this matter. I urge my colleagues to support this
Congressional Budget Office,
Washington, DC, April 5, 2000.
Hon. Orrin G. Hatch,
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary,
U.S. Senate, Washington, DC.
Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has prepared the enclosed cost estimate for H.R. 1658, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000.
If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be pleased to provide them. The CBO staff contacts are Lanette J. Keith (for federal costs), who can be reached at 226-2860, and Shelley Finlayson (for the state and local impact), who can be reached at 225-3220.
Barry B. Anderson
(For Dan L. Crippen, Director).
Summary: H.R. 1658 would make many changes to federal asset forfeiture laws that would affect the processing of about 60,000 civil seizures conducted each year by the Department of justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Treasury. (The Treasury Department makes an additional 50,000 seizures annually that would not be affected by this act.) Assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts, CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 1658 would cost $9 million over the 2001-2005 period to pay for additional costs of court-appointed counsel that would be authorized by this legislation. In addition, enacting the legislation would affect direct spending and receipts; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures would apply.
Because CBO expects that enacting H.R. 1658 would result in fewer civil seizures by DOJ and the Treasury Department, we estimate that governmental receipts (i.e., revenues) deposited into the Assets Forfeiture Fund and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund would decrease by about $115 million each year beginning in fiscal year 2001. Under current law, both forfeiture funds are authorized to collect revenue and spend the balance without further appropriation. Thus, the corresponding direct spending from the two funds would also decline, but with some lag. CBO estimates that enacting this provision would decrease projected surpluses by a total of $46 million over the fiscal years 2001 and 2002 (the difference between lower revenues and lower direct spending over those years), but that by fiscal year 2003 the changes in receipts and spending would be equal, resulting in no net budgetary impact thereafter.
H.R. 1658 also would require the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to represent certain claimants in civil forfeiture cases and would require the federal government to reimburse the LSC for its costs. CBO estimates that this provision would increase direct spending by $5 million over the 2001-2005 period.
In addition, H.R. 1658 would make the federal government liable for any property damage, attorney fees, and pre-judgment and post-judgment interested payments on certain assets to prevailing parties in civil forfeiture proceedings. CBO cannot estimate either the likelihood or the magnitude of such awards because there is no basis for predicting either the outcome of possible litigation or the amount of compensation.
H.R. 1658 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA), but CBO expects that enacting this legislation would lead to a reduction in payments to state and local governments from the Assets Forfeiture Fund and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund.
Description of the Act's major provisions: H.R. 1658 would make various changes to federal laws relating to the forfeiture of civil assets. In particular, the act would:
Establish a short statutory time limit for the federal government to notify interested parties of a seizure and to file a complaint;
Eliminate the cost bond requirement, whereby claimants have to post bond in an amount of the lesser of $5,000 or 10 percent of the value of the seized property (but not less than $250) to preserve the right to contest a forfeiture;
Permit federal courts to appoint counsel for certain indigent claimants;
Increase the federal government's burden of proof to a preponderance of the evidence;
Require the federal government to compensate prevailing claimants for property damage;
Establish the federal government's liability for payment of attorney fees and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest; and
Authorize the use of forfeited funds to pay restitution to crime victims.
Estimated cost to the Federal Government: As shown in the following
table, CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 1658 would increase discretionary
spending for court-appointed counsel by $9 million over the
2001-2005 period, assuming appropriation of the necessary funds. (For the purposes of this estimate. CBO assumes that spending for this purpose would be funded with appropriated amounts from the Defender Services account.) In addition, we estimate that over the 2001-2005 period, the reductions in direct spending of funds from forfeited assets would be smaller than the reductions in revenues estimated to occur as a result of enacting H.R. 1658, resulting in a net cost of $46 over the five-year period. Finally, CBO estimates that additional payments to the Legal Services Corporation would be about $1 million each year. The costs of this legislation fall within budget function 750 (administration of justice).
By fiscal year, in millions of dollars
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Basis of estimate: For purposes of this estimate, CBO assumes that H.R. 1658 will be enacted by the end of fiscal year 2000 and that the necessary amounts will be appropriated for each fiscal year. We also assume that outlays for defender services and the use of forfeiture receipts will continue to follow historical patterns.
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H.R. 1658 would allow for court-appointed counsel for certain parties contesting a forfeiture who already have been appointed counsel in a related criminal case. The act also would eliminate the requirement that claimants post bond before the case is tried in federal court. Consequently, CBO anticipates that enacting H.R. 1658 would make it easier for people whose assets have been seized to challenge the forfeiture of such assets. Based on information from DOJ, we estimate that the percentage of seizures that would result in contested civil cases would increase from 5 percent annually to at least 20 percent in fiscal year 2001. As the defense bar becomes increasingly aware of and more familiar with the provisions of H.R. 1658, CBO expects that the percentage of contested civil cases would increase to about 30 percent each year.
While the decision to appoint counsel would be at the discretion of the judge assigned to each case, CBO expects that judges would not want to encourage litigation in many cases. Moreover, CBO expects that many of the contested cases would involve larger assets, and such cases usually do not involve indigent claimants who would need court-appointed counsel. Based on information from DOJ, CBO estimates that a small number of indigent claimants in civil forfeiture cases would also have a criminal case pending. Specifically, we estimate that court-appointed counsel would be provided in about 5 percent of contested civil cases. In addition, because forfeiture cases involve property, the courts might have to appoint more than one attorney to represent multiple claimants in the same case. Historical data suggest an average of 1.5 claims per case.
While H.R. 1658 does not specify a level of compensation paid to court-appointed counsel for a civil forfeiture case, CBO expects such payment would be equivalent to amounts paid in criminal cases. Based on information from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, CBO estimates that court-appointed counsel would be paid about $3,000 per claimant per case. In total, we estimate that additional defender services related to civil asset forfeiture proceedings would cost about $9 million over the next five years.
In addition, other discretionary spending could be affected by this
act. On the one hand, the federal court system could require additional
resources in the future if additional cases are
brought to trial and the amount of time spent on each case increases. On the other hand, some savings in law enforcement resources could be realized if fewer seizures and conducted each year. While CBO cannot predict the amount of any such costs or savings, we expect that, on balance, implementing the act would result in no significant additional discretionary spending other than the increases for court-appointed counsel.
Revenues and direct spending
Based on information from DOJ and the Treasury Department, CBO estimates that about 23,000 seizures that would otherwise occur each year under current law would be eliminated under H.R. 1658. (Such seizures primarily involve assets whose value is less than $25,000.) The various changes to civil forfeiture laws under this act would make proving cases more difficult and more time-consuming for the federal government. In many instances, law enforcement agencies, including the state and local agencies that work on investigations jointly with the federal government and then receive a portion of the receipts generated from the forfeitures, many determine that certain cases, especially those with a value less than $25,000, may no longer be cost-effective to pursue. While the federal government and other law enforcement agencies would take a few years following enactment of the legislation to realize the full effects of its provisions on the forfeiture and claims process, CBO expects that the total number of seizures would decrease by nearly 40 percent. CBO estimates that such a reduction in seizures would reduce total forfeiture receipts by about $115 million in fiscal year 2001 and by $575 million over the 2001-2005 period.
The receipts deposited into the Assets Forfeiture Fund and the Treasury Forfeiture fund are used to pay for all costs associated with the operation of the forfeiture program, the payment of equitable shares of proceeds to foreign, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and other expenses not directly associated with a forfeiture case, such as payment of awards to informants. In recent years about 67 percent of total asset forfeiture receipts collected in a given year are spent in the same year in which they are collected; therefore, we estimate that enacting H.R. 1658 would result in a decrease in federal spending of $76 million in fiscal year 2001, $108 million in 2001, and $115 million annually in subsequent years.
In addition, H.R. 1658 would require the Legal Service Corporation to represent claimants in financial need and whose claim involves an asset that is the claimant's primary residence. Under H.R. 1658, the court must enter a judgment in favor of the LSC for the cost of legal representation. Based on historical data, CBO estimates that such judgments would increase direct spending by about $1 million a year.
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In addition, this act would make the federal government liable for any property damage, attorney fees, and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest payments on certain assets to prevailing parties in civil forfeiture proceedings. However, CBO cannot estimate either the likelihood or the magnitude of such awards because there is no basis for predicting either the outcome of possible litigation or the amount of compensation. Compensation payments could come from appropriated funds or occur without further appropriation from the Judgment Fund, or from both sources.
Pay-as-you-go considerations: The Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act sets up pay-as-you-go procedures for legislation affecting direct spending or receipts. The following table summarizes the estimated pay-as-you-go effects of H.R. 1658. For the purposes of enforcing pay-as-you-go procedures, only the effects in the current year, the budget year, and the succeeding four years are counted.
By Fiscal Year, in Millions of Dollars
200 201 202 203 204 205 206 207 208 209 2010
Changes in outlays 0 -75 -107 -114 -114 -114 -114 -114 -114 -114 -114
Changes in receipts 0 -115 -115 -115 -115 -115 -115 -115 -115 -115 -115
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Estimated impact on state, local, and tribal governments: H.R. 1658 contains no intergovernmental mandates as defined in UMRA. However, because CBO expects that the seizure of assets would decline under the act, CBO estimates that payments to state and local law enforcement agencies from the Assets Forfeiture Fund and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund would decline by about $230 million over the 2001-2005 period. State and local law enforcement agencies receive, on average, about 40 percent of the receipts in these forfeiture funds either because they participate in joint investigations that result in the seizure of assets, or because they turn over assets seized in their own investigations to the federal government, which conducts the civil asset forfeiture case. In both cases the receipts from a seizure are accumulated in the funds and a portion is distributed to state and local agencies according to their involvement.
Estimated impact on the private sector: This act would impose no new private-sector mandates as defined in UMRA.
Previous CBO transmitted a cost estimate for H.R. 1658 as reported by the House Committee on the Judiciary on June 18, 1999. While the two versions of the legislation are similar, we estimate they would have different costs. CBO estimates the House version would result in a greater loss of forfeiture receipts, by $25 million annually, than the version approved by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary because the House version would place the burden of proof in assets forfeiture cases more heavily on the federal government.
In addition, the House version of H.R. 1658 would not require payments to the Legal Services Corporation for representation of certain claimants whose principal residence has been seized. Finally, CBO estimates that the Senate version of the legislation would authorize less spending than the House version for the legal representation of indigent claimants because it restricts the eligibility requirements for this service more than the House legislation. We estimate this representation would cost about $2 million annually under the Senate version and about $13 million annually under the House version.
Estimate prepared by: Federal Costs: Lanette J. Keith. Impact on State, Local, and Tribal Governments: Shelley Finlayson. Impact on the Private Sector: John Harris.
Estimate approved by: Peter H. Fontaine, Deputy Assistant Director for Budget Analysis.
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Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
(Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas asked and was given permission to revise and extend her remarks.)
Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, this legislation has been long in coming. I know on behalf of the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Conyers), we want to thank the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Hyde) because this is legislation that the gentleman from Illinois has worked on extensively and without rest. The gentleman from Illinois has worked in a bipartisan manner. He has those of us who have had disagreements sometimes rally around this legislation because in every single one of our districts we found someone's mother, someone's wife, someone's sister, some innocent person who has been law abiding but because we are part of a great family, have found some family member outside of the law who has brought down the heavy hand of the law on hardworking people who have retained, if you will, or worked hard for the properties that they have.
I want to pay tribute to the gentleman; and I know the gentleman from Michigan would because, as I just heard a few moments ago, this is truly a bipartisan bill. I want to distinguish the fact that this is on the suspension calendar because we have had some vigorous debates here just earlier this morning about the process of suspensions bypassing committee, and I would not want this legislation to be defined accordingly.
This bill has been worked and worked and worked and your staff, George, we thank you, we know you have been on the battle line working hard to make sure that this comes together. I want to acknowledge Perry Apelbaum and Cori Flam likewise and say that we rise in support of this legislation, a bipartisan bill that is a result of extensive negotiations and deliberations with our colleagues in the Senate, Senators Hatch, Leahy, Sessions and Schumer as well as the Department of Justice. I might do a slight editorial note and say that out of the bipartisan effort, the bill from the House may not be the exact same and I might have wanted the bill from the House maybe because I am a House Member but we are gratified that we finally resolved it and it has come back for a vote.
Mr. Speaker, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act makes common sense changes to our civil asset forfeiture laws to make these procedures fair and more equitable. H.R. 1658 strikes the right balance between the needs of law enforcement and the right of individuals to not have their property forfeited without proper safeguards. I recall that we actually had hearings on this, and I recall some of the really horrific stories of individuals losing their only house, their only source of income because of this law.
Would you believe that under current law, the government can confiscate an individual's private property on the mere showing of probable cause? That is under current law. Then even though that person has never been arrested, much less convicted of a crime, the government requires a person to file action in a Federal court to prove that the property is not subject to forfeiture just to get the property back. Well, that is true.
We can imagine that the gentleman from Michigan enthusiastically embraced and worked with the gentleman from Illinois on this legislation. There is no question that forfeiture laws can, as Congress intended, serve legitimate law enforcement purposes. My own police department, a simple and small example, promotes and utilizes or has utilized civil forfeiture laws as relates to drug intervention and drug crimes. But they are currently susceptible to abuse. That is why the bill makes reforms to the current civil forfeiture regimen.
To highlight a few examples, the bill places the burden of proof where it belongs, with the government agency that performed the seizure, and it protects individuals from the difficult task of proving a negative, in other words, proving that their property was not subject to forfeiture. H.R. 1658 also permits the awarding of attorney's fees if the claimant substantially prevails, creates an innocent owner defense and permits a court to provisionally return property to a claimant on a showing of substantial hardship where, for example, the forfeiture crippled the functioning of a business, prevented an individual from working or left an individual homeless. Is that not justice for Americans? These reforms simply balance the scales so that innocent people have a level playing field on which to challenge improper seizures.
H.R. 1658 also makes certain changes to help law enforcement crack down on criminal activities. For example, the bill permits courts to enter restraining orders to secure the availability of the property subject to civil forfeiture, and it clarifies that the law prohibiting the removal or destruction of property to avoid prosecution applies to seizures as well as forfeitures.
As I see the ranking member on the floor of the House, I know that he will have much to say about this bipartisan effort. But I am hoping that this bill, although it appears on the suspension calendar, will evidence the hard work that we have done collectively on the Committee on the Judiciary on this very issue. I thank both the chairman and the ranking member for their efforts. I am very proud to support this bill today personally and to ask my colleagues to join us in supporting this important legislation.
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Mr. BARR of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, I thank the distinguished chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary for yielding me this time. I would like to commend the gentleman from Illinois for his tremendous work over many years' time on reforming Federal asset forfeiture laws which, as we all know, are an important tool for Federal law enforcement and indirectly for local law enforcement which frequently because of their participation in cases resulting in seized assets participate in the disposition of those seized assets once they are forfeited.
Many of us, including myself as a former United States attorney, while having tremendous regard and respect for our civil asset forfeiture laws and what an important tool they are for law enforcement also recognize they are subject to abuse and have been abused. This legislation on which the gentleman from Illinois has been working for many years and which will be one of the most important hallmarks of his tenure as both chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and his long and distinguished service as a Member of the House of Representatives will go a long way towards bringing back into balance a system that has become sorely out of balance. I commend the gentleman for his work, and I commend both sides of the aisle for bringing this forward in a bipartisan manner. I urge its adoption.
Mr. Speaker, I also rise today with the chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary to discuss the intent of section 983(a)(2)(C)(ii) which states, `A claim shall state the claimant's interest in such property and provide customary documentary evidence of such interest if available and state that the claim is not frivolous.'
Mr. Speaker, I interpret this language to require only prima facie evidence to establish such an interest. I assume the gentleman from Illinois concurs with my representation but would like for the record to clarify what type of documentation would be necessary to establish this interest in the seized property, sufficient to make a claim under this legislation.
This documentary evidence should be fairly easy to obtain while still establishing the claimant has a legitimate, nonfrivolous interest in such property. This interest can be established by documents including but not limited to a copy of an automobile title, a loan statement for a home, or a note from a bank for a monetary account. For property such as cash in which no documentary evidence is normally available, this provision would be loosely applied and there would be an assumption of the claimant's interest in such property by simply making a claim and asserting its nonfrivolous nature.
Mr. HYDE. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman will yield, I thank the gentleman from Georgia for bringing this issue to the attention of the House. The gentleman's explanation is accurate and reflects the intent of the legislation. There was a need for such an explanation and I appreciate the gentleman from Georgia's clarification of this issue.
Mr. BARR of Georgia. I thank the gentleman for engaging in the colloquy.
Mr. HYDE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 30 seconds. I want to thank the gentlewoman from Texas for her very cordial remarks. I want to particularly thank the gentleman from Michigan and his staff and make a point. This Committee on the Judiciary in this House of Representatives can work together in a bipartisan fashion to turn out good legislation. This is one example. There are many others. This bill had its genesis in a newspaper article written by Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune several years ago. When I read what was going on under civil asset forfeiture, I thought it was more appropriate for the Soviet Union than the United States, and it has taken 7 years but we are there today and it is a great moment.
Mr. Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Sweeney).
Mr. SWEENEY. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time. I want to say, a year ago I rose on this floor with my colleagues the gentleman from Arkansas (Mr. Hutchinson) and the gentleman from New York (Mr. Weiner) in opposition to this bill. I come today in support of this particular provision. I rose in opposition a year ago because I was concerned about the effects on criminal justice and specifically the effects on law enforcement, but I have to point out that the chairman and the Committee on the Judiciary, as has been noted, in a bipartisan manner has done a tremendous job to ease those concerns.
They have provided us great improvements on the bill. The compromise provides important procedural protections to law-abiding property owners without compromising law enforcement's ability to shut down criminal enterprises. Specifically the bill shifts the burden of proof in forfeiture cases from property owners to the government with the appropriate threshold of a preponderance of the evidence.
The compromise also limits the appointment of court-appointed lawyers to indigent claimants whose primary residence is subject to forfeiture. I want to say that there is one concern that I have and I think a couple of my colleagues have as well as it relates to this legislation, and, that is, that we have a continuing reservation that the removal of the cost bond requirement could impair the asset forfeiture program in the future.
We know that the Justice Department is already overwhelmed with challenges to asset seizures, and I am fearful that the removal of the cost bond could further paralyze that effort. But let me say this, I hope to and I know my colleagues who stood with me a year ago hope to work with the chairman and the committee to oversee the implementation of cost bond provisions requiring up-front certification and posthearing penalties and ensure that my fears do not become a reality for law enforcement. But overall, Mr. Speaker, this is a victory for the American people. I want to salute the Committee on the Judiciary and its great chairman. I urge support for this bill.
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Pease). Without objection, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Conyers) will control the time previously granted to the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson-Lee).
There was no objection.
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I would like to begin by pointing out that the chairman of this committee and I have worked together on this measure for at least a couple of Congresses. I have been working on it, also, unbeknownst to the gentleman from Illinois in the Committee on Government Reform. I think we have come quite a long way. The bill retains the core of some of the main reforms that was in Hyde-Conyers.
We have adopted the Senate version. But the shifting of the burden of proof is very important. The appointment of counsel is a critical improvement. The return of property in case of substantial hardship is very important. And the innocent owner defense is now strong in the bill. The claim for property damages while in the government's custody is a valid concern. And an award of interest. The bill allows prejudgment interest to be awarded when cash is improperly seized by the government. And we eliminate the cost of bond which would be a part of the current requirement that a claimant challenging a civil asset forfeiture file a cost of bond.
Who would have believed that under our current law, the government can confiscate an individual's private property on a mere showing of probable cause? Then even though a person has never been arrested, not to mention convicted, of a crime, the government requires the person to file an action to prove that the property is not subject to forfeiture to get the property back.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. Speaker, I yield 1 1/2 minutes to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Weiner), a distinguished member of the Committee on the Judiciary.
Mr. WEINER. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the Senate amendments to H.R. 1658, and I want to commend the gentleman from Illinois (Chairman Hyde), our chairman, for his year-long effort to reform our asset forfeiture laws. The gentleman quite literally wrote the book on the subject. When the history is written of his prodigious work in this House, this certainly warrants mention.
Last year, a somewhat divided House considered H.R. 1658. While it garnered the support of the majority of our colleagues, it was adamantly opposed by the administration, as well as by every major law enforcement group. Because of this opposition, I offered, along with the gentleman from Arkansas (Mr. Hutchinson) and the gentleman from New York (Mr. Sweeney), a substitute version of H.R. 1658 on the floor of the House.
The substitute would have made needed reforms by placing the burden of proof on the Government to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that property seized was used in an illegal activity. It would have allowed for counsel to be appointed in those proceedings. It would have protected innocent owners, and it would have allowed property to be returned to claimants in instances of hardship.
It was, I thought, a balanced approach that had the support of all major law enforcement organizations, as well as 155 of my colleagues. That amendment failed, although it had some support, and many of us voted against the base bill for that reason.
Mr. Speaker, today's amendment, today's bill I am pleased to vote in favor of. It puts the burden of proof where it should be, on the Government; and it rightfully protects the owners and spouses and children, if they can show they were not involved in illegal activity.
Perhaps, most importantly, today's bill has the approval of the men and women of law enforcement. Like our substitute, today's bill allows civil asset forfeiture to continue to be used as a tool by police and prosecutors across the country to shut down crack houses and seize drug-running speedboats.
Mr. Speaker, I applaud the authors of this compromise and my colleagues who voted in favor of reform originally.
Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume, merely to point out in the colloquy between the gentleman from Georgia and the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Hyde), the distinguished chairman of the committee, that I stand in agreement about the interpretation given by the chairman of section 983A(2)(c)(2), which dealt with the claimant's interests in such property and provide customary documentary evidence of such evidence, if available, and state that the claim is not frivolous.
Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to join in a clarification of the intent that, for example, a person should not be barred from challenging an improper forfeiture if he or she has misplaced a receipt or if the person does not have the evidence on hand. I think that response is consistent with the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Hyde) and the gentleman from Georgia, and I just wanted to weigh in on that.
This has taken quite awhile, but it is an important measure, and my compliments are out to the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Hyde), the chairman of the committee, and to all of the Members who have gone through a rethinking process to bring the bill to the kind of support that I believe it is enjoying on the floor this afternoon.
Mr. Speaker, I began looking at this matter from the old Government Operations Committee, and I was very pleased to learn that the gentleman from Illinois had, indeed, studied the matter, had put together his thoughts in a book on the matter, and it led us to bringing forth a bill jointly that now has the imprimatur, I believe, of most of the Members in both bodies.
It is in that spirit that we will want to make sure that it is implemented fairly and that it adds to the good body of law that comes out of the House Committee on the Judiciary.
Mr. Speaker, with those remarks, I reserve the balance of our time.
Mr. HYDE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to express my gratitude again to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Conyers) and his staff and everyone who worked on this bill. We did not mention Jon Dudas and Rick Filkins. I just want to say, George Fishman who is sitting here, he was the single most indispensable element of this bill, and I am grateful to him.
Mr. BARR of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank Mr. Hyde for working so rigorously to come to a reasonable agreement with the Senate on civil asset forfeiture reform. The compromise is fair and will restore fairness to this process.
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Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I strongly support this measure. Passage of this bill is long overdue, and I urge all Members to join me in voting to send it to the President for signing into law.
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Ose). The question is on the motion offered by the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Hyde) that the House suspend the rules and concur in the Senate amendment to the bill, H.R. 1658.
The question was taken; and (two-thirds having voted in favor thereof) the rules were suspended and the Senate amendment was concurred in.
The motion to reconsider is laid on the table.