CSAO: Banking Committee - March 6, 2018




March 6, 2018

The Division of Criminal Justice strongly opposes H.B. No. 5398, An Act Prohibiting State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies from Providing Certain Property to a Federal Agency for the Purpose of Such Property’s Forfeiture, and respectfully recommends the Committee take NO ACTION on this bill. The Division is not aware of any incident in Connecticut that would warrant the changes proposed in this bill, and, even more important, believes this legislation flies in the face of efforts to address the opioid abuse crisis that is facing our state and country.

H.B. No. 5398 is essentially an attempt to kill the federal asset sharing system that has long benefited Connecticut law enforcement, and, in particular, our municipal police departments. By providing financial support, this system also provides a valuable incentive for our state and local police departments to join in collaboration with their federal partners to undertake complex, costly and lengthy narcotics investigations. This bill has an obvious negative fiscal impact, which would be felt by both local and state police departments that have supported a wide range of law enforcement activities via asset forfeiture sharing.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner just this past week reported that drug deaths in this state have nearly tripled over the past six years. The medical examiner reports 1,038 drug deaths last year, 677 of which involved the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Given these alarming and unacceptable statistics, it is impossible to understand how anyone would want to eliminate an important incentive for the collaborative efforts of Connecticut law enforcement at all levels of government to fight the trafficking of fentanyl and other illegal drugs. Our state and local police departments need our strong support as they continue to work closely with the United States Attorney, the FBI and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency on these cases.

Further, as to the general practice of federal sharing of forfeiture awards, the Division of Criminal Justice is not aware of any examples in Connecticut where innocent owners have been deprived of property through this process. While this bill may have been motivated by reports of such incidents in other jurisdictions, there simply is no problem to correct in Connecticut. We would urge the Committee to stand behind Connecticut law enforcement by rejecting this bill and not punishing them for something that may have happened in another state but which has not happened here and which we have no reason to believe will happen here.

More specific:

  • With regard to section 1, state and local police often make arrests and seize assets that later prove to be part of a larger investigation. Proceeds from drug trafficking that are part of a larger investigation should be forfeited and shared in a single proceeding consistent with federal law, particularly if the criminal case is in federal court. The phrase "otherwise required by federal law" is confusing. Federal statutes do not require states or municipalities to turn over seized assets, but they could be subpoenaed by the federal grand jury. It is not clear if this statute would require the state or a municipality to defy a grand jury subpoena because federal statutes do not require the seized assets to be turned over to a federal agency.

  • Section 2 would appear to prohibit the state and municipalities from accepting any stipends or salary benefits for state and/or municipal police working on federal task forces. Again, with opioid deaths at epidemic levels, do we not want to keep incentives for municipalities to work with their federal partners to interdict heroin, fentanyl and other illegal drugs?

  • As to Section 3, the Division is at a total loss to understand the reasoning behind the language that essentially tells the federal government that Connecticut is not prohibiting federal agents from acting pursuant to federal law in investigating federal cases. It simply makes no sense.

The Division of Criminal Justice strongly supports the initiatives undertaken by the General Assembly to combat the opioid crisis that is now facing our state and nation. We commend the broad range of legislation designed to address this public health crisis on a number of fronts. These initiatives must include a strong law enforcement component that builds on the strengths of our law enforcement agencies at all levels of government. The federal asset forfeiture program is an important part of that effort. Accordingly, the Division strongly opposes H.B. No. 5398 and respectfully recommends the Committee take NO ACTION on this bill. Should the Committee decide to move this legislation forward, we would recommend that it be referred to the appropriate committees where the obvious negative and unnecessary fiscal impact on both the state and local governments can be fully assessed and examined.

In conclusion, the Division thanks the Committee for affording this opportunity to provide input on this matter. The Division would be happy to provide any additional information the Committee might require or to answer any questions that you might have.

Content Last Modified on 3/6/2018 11:35:22 AM