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New Protections for Property Rights in Arkansas: Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

By Aaron Newell

Civil asset forfeiture reform has been on the minds of Arkansas legislators, as well as policymakers around the country.

The US Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion in Timbs v Indiana, ruled that the excessive fines clause of the US Constitution applied to state laws, and in particular civil asset forfeiture laws. This means that states can’t fine you or take your property in excess of the fine amount that is associated with the crime committed.

In Arkansas, legislators are doing even more.

Sen Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) introduced a bill (SB308) that would end civil asset forfeiture and replace it with a criminal procedure. The bill would prohibit the state from seizing cash or property without a conviction first, with some exceptions. These exceptions include:

  • being granted immunity or reduced punishment in exchange for testifying or assisting a law enforcement agency or prosecution
  • fleeing or failing to appear in court
  • abandoned or disclaimed ownership in the seized property
  • agreed in writing with the prosecuting attorney to give up the property

The bill has now been signed into law.

ACRE researchers have worked on this issue as well. Former ACRE Fellow and UCA Schedler Honors College alumna Maleka Momand authored, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Civil Asset Forfeiture in Arkansas,” a policy brief supervised by UCA assistant professor of economics and ACRE Scholar Dr. Jeremy Horpedahl. Her work has been updated by myself and Horpedahl. Our newest infographic describes forfeiture in Arkansas through 2018  based on new data from FOIA requests to the Drug Director of Arkansas.

Total cash seizures between 2010-2018 total $59 million. We also know that the percentage of seizures that targeted Arkansans rather than citizens from other states has remained steady. We also updated the counts of vehicles, firearms, and other assets.  

For more of ACRE’s work on this issue, you can check out:
Civil Asset Forfeiture in Arkansas summary blog post by Maleka Momand
Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Civil Asset Forfeiture in Arkansas policy brief by Maleka Momand (you can also listen to the audio version of the brief)
One page infographic on civil asset forfeiture in Arkansas

ACRE also invited Angela Erickson to speak about civil asset forfeiture as part of our Distinguished Speaker Series. Erickson is a former senior research analyst at the Institute for Justice (IJ) and a co-author of Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture (2nd ed.) in which Arkansas receives a D-. Her work has been cited by the Obama White House, the U.S. Supreme Court, numerous newspapers including the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, and by research published in several academic journals. You can watch her talk on ACRE’s YouTube page.  

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post did not list the exceptions in the new law.