Legislative panel explores changing drug forfeiture law

August 17, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Just months after a gubernatorial veto killed the first major overhaul of the state's drug forfeiture law in five years, a legislative committee yesterday began again exploring ways to change the controversial statute.

Criminal defense attorneys, an appellate judge, a law professor and representatives of law enforcement testified before the Special House Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse in Annapolis. They offered differing views on the need to change the way Maryland handles property alleged to have been used in the drug trade.

To defense attorneys, the way Maryland practices forfeiture amounts to legal extortion, while to law enforcement officials it is an effective weapon against drug traffickers and addicts.

The General Assembly in April overwhelmingly passed a forfeiture bill that would have allowed judges to review a prosecutor's reasons for filing forfeiture against a drug defendant's car, cash or home.

Under current law -- passed in 1989 -- a judge may not question a prosecutor's decision to file for forfeiture. The judge may reject the forfeiture only for procedural missteps or if he determines the seized property was not used to facilitate a drug crime.

The state's 24 state's attorneys asked Gov. William Donald Schaefer to veto the bill. He did, saying it was unfair to pass it just as the General Assembly session was coming to a close.

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