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Amendment to local forfeiture law seeks to include seizure of civil assets

Senators in session

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Lemanu-Talauega Administration is seeking to amend local forfeiture law, by expanding the seizure authority to included proceeds from illicit drug transactions via civil asset forfeiture.

“[C]ivil asset forfeiture laws are an important tool for depriving criminals of the means that they use to commit crimes and of the proceeds of those crimes,” according to the preamble of the bill, which was introduced in the Senate yesterday, and expected later to go to the House.

Additionally, “funds resulting from civil asset forfeiture can be used to compensate victims and provide needed funds for investigation and prosecution of criminal activity.”

The bill provides a general procedure for forfeiture actions that could be used for a variety of crimes while balancing due process rights of individuals with public safety/ law enforcement objectives, it says.

Further, the bill also provides for distribution of forfeiture proceeds including residual funds to the Legislature for appropriation, and requires reports to the Legislature, Governor, Territorial Auditor and to be published on the ASG website. 

Current forfeiture law, states in part, that all controlled substances, which have been manufactured, distributed, dispensed, imported or acquired in violation of local drug law are subject to forfeiture.

Also subject to forfeiture, are all raw materials, products and equipment of any kind, which are used, or intended for use, in manufacturing, compounding, processing, delivering importing or exporting any controlled substance.

 Amendments proposed to be added to the forfeiture “property” law:

•           Any proceeds resulting from a violation of this chapter including, but not limited to, property derived directly or indirectly from, maintained by, or realized through an act or omission relating to criminal conduct and includes any benefits interest, or property of any kind without reduction for expenses incurred for acquisition, maintenance, or any other purpose 

•           Any property which is, directly or indirectly, used or intended for use in any manner to facilitate a violation of this chapter 

•           Any interest, security, claim, or property or contractual right of any kind affording a source of influence over any enterprise that a person has established operated, controlled, conducted, or participated in the conduct of in violation of this chapter or the laws of the United States relating to controlled substances that is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year;

•           Any property found in close proximity to any controlled substances or other property subject to forfeiture under this section; and 

•           Any weapon available for any use in any manner to facilitate a violation of this chapter.

The bill also creates the Chapter in the local law — “Civil Asset Forfeiture” — which outlines the procedures for forfeiture, which includes filing a forfeiture lien with the court.

Another provision of the proposed law — “Authority to seize property for Civil Asset Forfeiture — states that any law enforcement officer who has the power to make arrests may seize property that is subject to forfeiture when the officer has probable cause to believe that the property is subject to forfeiture under laws of American Samoa.

Additionally, any law enforcement officer may seize property that is subject to forfeiture pursuant to a search warrant or other orders from a court with jurisdiction on American Samoa.

And if the property that is subject to forfeiture was taken from a person, the law enforcement officer seizing the property shall provide a written receipt that provides the date, time, and location of seizure along with a list of property that was seized.

Other provisions of the proposed law, require the government to provide burden of proof, or “preponderance of evidence” that the seized property is subject to forfeiture.  It also provides in details the disposition of forfeited property.

With the Fono going into its mid-session recess at the close of business on Feb. 06, the bill — which is assigned to the Senate Government Operations Committee — will not be taken up for a hearing until lawmakers reconvene on Mar. 13.