Bill aims to reform process of recovering property seized by police if individual isn’t charged


Two legislators introduced a bill  on Thursday aimed at reforming Delaware’s broadly based  civil asset forfeiture system. Sponsored by Democratic Reps. Kim Williams and Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, House Bill 280 would increase transparency and shift the burden of proof, a release stated. 

The bill has no Republican co-sponsors.

Under the current law, police  have  the ability to keep assets, such as cash and valusables  even if individuals are not charged.

“The lack of guardrails in the civil asset forfeiture system over the years has allowed too many people to fall through the cracks of our criminal justice system,¨ said  Williams.

Delaware’s current civil asset forfeiture laws have been graded a D- by the Institute for Justice, citing inadequate protections for innocent citizens and a low standard of proof. 

The bill

– Prohibits forfeiture unless a criminal charge is brought.

– Shifts  the burden of proof from the individual to the state.

– Sets the minimum amount of cash that can be seized and forfeited at $500.

– Calls for the  property owner prevailing  in a forfeiture case  to recover their lawyer’s fees and related costs.

“The Division of State Police appreciates the opportunity to provide input on this legislation and Rep. Williams’ willingness to work with the various stakeholders involved in the process,¨ said Colonel Melissa Zebley, superintendent of the Delaware State Police.

“The Delaware Association of Chiefs of Police is supportive of this legislation. We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Representative Williams on this important issue,” said Delaware Association of Chiefs of Police President Patrick Ogden.

The measure also aims to increase transparency by requiring the Delaware Department of Justice (DOJ) to collect and annually report on statistics regarding civil asset forfeiture, including demographics, case outcomes and amount and type of forfeiture cases.

Data from the state’s Department of Justice  indicates that from 2018 to 2020, out of 1,720 tracked forfeiture cases, 72% involved Black individuals.

HB 280 has been assigned to the House Public Safety Committee.