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Louisiana Reforms Its Asset Forfeiture Laws


September-October 1997

Under procedures (H.B. 351) approved by Louisiana Governor Mike Foster (R), law enforcement officers must be in marked cars and in uniform when conducting traffic stops, must limit the duration of their traffic stops, and are prohibited from issuing warning tickets to drivers as an excuse to search their vehicles. Foster also charged the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement with conducting oversight, including developing guidelines and ethics, on highway traffic stops and the asset forfeiture program ("Hitting the Brakes," Law Enforcement News, September 15, 1997, p. 1).

The outlined procedures are a revision of the state's asset forfeiture laws. The revisions are intended to correct abuses depicted in a report on NBC-TV's "Dateline" on January 3. "Dateline" reported that Louisiana law enforcement officers in Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis parishes were stopping motorists without cause, particularly out-of-state drivers, and illegally seizing money and other property from them (See "Louisiana Law Enforcement Stops Innocent Motorists and Seizes Their Property, Reports NBC's 'Dateline,'" NewBriefs, February 1997).

Louisiana State Reps. Carl Crane and Robert Faucheux sponsored H.B. 351 (Title 32, Sec. 398.1; Act #759) which outlines the reformed asset forfeiture procedures. Rep. Tony Perkins offered an amendment to the final version of the bill which states that traffic stops may not last longer "than reasonably necessary" for the officer to write a ticket. Perkins' measure was included in an effort to prevent officers from searching vehicles or making calls for backup officers to search while the driver is detained. Another asset forfeiture reform bill (H.B. 1839) was enacted (Title 40, Sec. 2601; Act #1334) on August 15, which describes how the forfeiture proceedings will be performed and sets forth property release requirements.

Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, which drafted the final reform legislation, said, "We looked at the kinds of practices that had the potential for being abusive, and came up with a list of improvements designed to thwart any abuse and to restore public confidence, not only in drug asset-forfeiture but in highway interdiction in general."

Louisiana Reps. Carl Crane - (504) 766-7274; Robert Faucheux - (504) 651-3886; Tony Perkins (504) 775-4400.