Dear Arnold,

Here's the opening debate on the Property Forfeiture issue. Mark Shurtleff has already promised me a response.

Arnold Gaunt has served as a Republican delegate and central committee member at the county and state level, and in 1996 authored the Republican Party platform position on forfeiture. He has been involved in exposing abusive forfeiture practices for more than a decade, in both Utah and California. In the following message, he offers his analysis and opinion on the current legislative attempt to revise citizen's Initiative B.


Utah Republicans Pursue Forfeiture of Your Right to Own Property

Republican Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Senator John Valentine are pushing legislation (SB 31) to dramatically revise citizen's Initiative B. This initiative passed in November 2000 by a 69% favorable vote of the Utah electorate. It institutes a broad range of protection in the law to obstruct the confiscation of private property from innocent owners.

Support for the initiative arose from numerous well-documented cases of forfeiture abuse, both here in Utah (see and nationally. My personal concern regarding forfeiture arose in 1992 when Don Scott, an innocent man, was killed in his own home in California by what amounted to a property forfeiture death squad (see for a summary).

Discovery by the Ventura County District Attorney revealed that confiscation of Scott's 200 acre ranch was a motivation for the forfeiture squad's invasion of Scott's home (see for the complete report). There was one problem: no drugs were found in Scott's home, or anywhere on his property, and neither was Scott connected to the drug trade.

Following the homicide of Don Scott, I undertook research of state and federal forfeiture codes. What I discovered was shocking. Though some variation existed between the various federal and state laws, virtually all were based on the following provisions.

In consideration of these provisions in Utah's previous forfeiture law, Initiative B enacted a uniform forfeiture procedure that restores the right of innocent citizens to own property. It also prohibits gross injustice, and deters law enforcement corruption. Disturbingly, the Shurtleff/Valentine legislation (see undermines and circumvents these improvements in law brought by the initiative, as summarized in the following.

Shurtleff/Valentine Bill Repeals Innocent Owner Protections!

Shurtleff/Valentine Bill Institutes Gross Injustice!

Shurtleff/Valentine Bill Encourages Police Corruption!

Shurtleff and Valentine promote their legislation in contravention of the Utah Republican Party platform, which states that "We strongly oppose the forfeiture of private property from innocent owners" (see Shurtleff's involvement is particularly objectionable. First, when he ran for Attorney General two years ago, his campaign materials expressed clear opposition to civil asset forfeiture (see Second, as a statewide candidate he filed a disclosure statement that affirmed his support for the entire platform. By signing the disclosure, he also agreed to be evaluated by his performance against the platform.

In defense of his actions, Shurtleff might reply that this legislation does not affect innocent owners because police and prosecutors can be trusted to use financial incentives and additional confiscation power in a just and responsible manner. But careful consideration of human nature, the previous abuses referenced, and a recent report from the State Auditor do not justify confidence in such a position.

Regarding the Auditor's report (see ), it was discovered that no forfeited property has been received by the State Treasurer as Initiative B requires. Specifically, he found that

In light of the State Auditor's letter, shouldn't the Attorney General, Senator Valentine, and other Republicans focus on bringing the courts and prosecutors into compliance with Initiative B, instead of attacking innocent owner protection? If you agree, please contact your state representative and senator, Senate President Alma Mansell, House Speaker Marty Stephens, and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. And e-mail me at for current information on this assault on your right to own property. Thank you for your attention and concern!

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