Arizona law enforcement agencies seized nearly $200 million in personal property over the span of the past five years from suspects, leading to “systemic gaps” that make following the cash difficult and winning it back in full nearly impossible, a report published in the Arizona Capitol Times said.
The report said these seizures typically start at traffic stops, when police officers seize cash or drugs from suspects. The report said “anything suspected of being used as part of the crime, including cash, is then fair game for seizure.”
Once the cash is seized, state law makes it an uphill fight, the report said.
Prosecutors are only required to prove the cash or drugs were “more likely than not” related to a crime.
Civil rights advocates criticized these laws. Not only does a suspect who had his property seized have to prove his innocence, he can still be on the hook for the costs associated with the prosecution and investigation, the report said.
The report said the La Paz County Attorney’s Office and the Santa Cruz County Attorney’s Office did not respond to interview requests.
The report was produced by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit investigative newsroom. AZCIR reportedly spent more than a year gathering quarterly reports.
The nonprofit reported that it found “vague” expenditure descriptions and there is little data other than “aggregate totals” of the amounts seized. These funds reportedly “augment” the budgets of 80 law enforcement agencies in the state. About 90 percent of the seizures were cash.
Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Ariz., is reportedly seeking a statewide database of all seizure cases. He reportedly said he does not believe “something sinister” is going on, but said the program “Has evolved into something that wasn’t, I don’t believe, intended back in the 1980s when the laws were originally passed.”