Representative Aaron Aylward (R-6/Harrisburg) appears to have put a hoghouse bill to good use. After introducing House Bill 1328 as an empty bill on reporting certain seizures of property, Aylward came to House Judiciary last week to stuff that carcass with a proposal to shine a light on how much private property South Dakota cops are taking from accused bad guys and people associated with bad guys. Aylward isn’t shutting down this practice as authorized under SDCL Chapter 23A-49 or changing the burdens of proof, which allow the cops to establish mere probable cause and then require the targeted owners to prove the state shouldn’t take their stuff. But Aylward may throttle the practice with the bane of every TV-cop’s existence: paperwork!
As finally fleshed out last week, HB 1328 requires every law enforcement agency in the state give the Attorney General an annual report itemizing every stitch of property seized or forfeited under SDCL 23A-49. HB 1328 requires the Attorney General to then put all of that information online so we all can see which cop shops took what stuff from which people where, how much that stuff is worth, what criminal charges motivated the cops to take the stuff, whether the owners fought to get their stuff back, and where the stuff is now. Law enforcement agencies that fail to report within 30 days of the annual due date could face a fine of $500 or one quarter of the value of the stuff they seized, whichever is greater.
And in a really interesting assignment of power, Section 5 of HB 1328 empowers any elected official within the jurisdiction of a seizing law enforcement agency to request that the state auditor audit the records submitted to the Attorney General by her local cops. As written, this section appears to give any elected official this power: Governor, statewide constitutional officer (the Auditor could request himself to do an audit!), legislator, county commissioner, city commissioner, mayor, school board member, township officer, sanitary district trustee—if you’re elected and you’ve got cops, you can call for an audit of the assets they’ve seized.
The Attorney General also gets to charge law enforcement agencies a fee for filing their reports. That seems gratuitously nasty… but hey, how do the cops think citizens feel when the cops take their stuff?
The absence of reporting is one of the big gaps in South Dakota’s civil forfeiture law. Bad guys deserve to lose their booty, but the good guys should account for all the booty they seize to make sure they aren’t abusing their power.