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Asset forfeiture reform

Asset forfeiture is on the agenda at the Minnesota Legislature this year.

Seizures chart:
Law enforcement agency breakdown 2005-2008:

Via the MN ACLU chapter:


Police have the power to take (seize) and keep (forfeit) cash and other property for various crimes. Some forfeitures happen after the owner is convicted of a crime. Some forfeitures, related to drug or certain DWI crimes, happen without even an arrest. This is known as "administrative forfeiture."

Forfeiture is different from impoundment. With impoundment, you can pay certain costs and retrieve your vehicle. Forfeiture only applies to certain crimes like drug crimes, DWI and some felonies; it does not apply for parking or traffic violations. In a forfeiture case, you must go to court and win to get your property returned.

When police forfeit property, the agency gets to keep 70% of the income. 20% goes to the prosecutor, and 10% goes to the State. In 2008, law enforcement reported 3823 forfeiture incidents yielding a net amount of $3,500,434. Over 21% of those seizures (700) were for less than $100.

Put those numbers together, and seizures of less than $100 paid out $525,815 to law enforcement departments in 2008. That is a lot of pocket change.

The ACLU-MN has reviewed the laws giving police these powers and found:

The law does not do enough to protect innocent owners.
The law does not adequately link the forfeitable property to a crime.
Challenging forfeiture is complicated and expensive.
Forfeiture income creates a conflict of interest for police.
Therefore, the ACLU-MN is recommending changing the seizure and forfeiture laws. Simply put, here are the changes we recommend:

Protecting innocent owners so that forfeiture can only be used against people convicted of a crime.
The State must prove that the property was used to commit a crime or represents proceeds of criminal activity.
The State must pay the costs of the forfeiture process, and it must be understandable for ordinary people.
Forfeiture income needs to be distributed by the Legislature, not kept by the officers who took the property.


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