Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Now Requires Folks to Actually Be Convicted Before Seizing Their Stuff

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"No GPS, but it does have a sweet sound system!"
U.S. Marshals Service / photo on flickr

Rejoice, Minnesotans! Police in your state can no longer just seize your assets when you're arrested and do everything in their power to keep from having to give it back. This week the governor signed into a law a bill that requires citizens to actually be convicted of a crime before autorities may engage in civil asset forfeiture. Nick Sibilla, a former Reason intern now with the property-protecting lawyers of the Institute for Justice (IJ), wrote about the changes for Forbes:

Now the government can only take property if it obtains a criminal conviction or its equivalent, like if a property owner pleads guilty to a crime or becomes an informant. The bill also shifts the burden of proof onto the government, where it rightfully belongs. Previously, if owners wanted to get their property back, they had to prove their property was not the instrument or proceeds of the charged drug crime.  In other words, owners had to prove a negative in civil court. Being acquitted of the drug charge in criminal court did not matter to the forfeiture case in civil court.

As Lee McGrath, the executive director of IJ's Minnesota chapter, put it, "No one acquitted in criminal court should lose his property in civil court. This change makes Minnesota's law consistent with the great American presumption that a person and his property are innocent until proven guilty."

The bill faced stiff opposition from law enforcement and a bottleneck in the legislature. In March, the Star Tribune called it an "outrage" that lawmakers were "dragging their feet on one of the big, common-sense changes" to the state's forfeiture laws. Ultimately, SF 874 found wide, bipartisan support, passing the state senate 55 to 5 and the state house unanimously. The reforms will go into effect starting August 1, 2014.

The argument against reforming the law was a fear-mongering claim that it would keep more guns on the street. This sort of tortured logic in the Star Tribune should be considered a violation of the Eighth Amendment:

"Drug dealers are smart people," [Minnesota County ­Attorneys Association Executive Director John] Kingrey said. "One of the challenges we have is we walk in the door with cocaine and $10,000 sitting on the table, with five guys saying 'That's not mine.' Four of them get convicted, and the fifth guy says 'That money was mine, I wasn't convicted, give me the dough.'?"

It's not just money, Kingrey said. Acquittals could also put guns back on the street.

"When you see drugs, you see guns and this would make it more difficult to seize and forfeit guns," Kingrey said.

Yes, it does make it more difficult to seize the property of people acquitted of crimes. That is the entire point. If you can't manage to convict a room full of guys standing around a pile of cocaine, the problem isn't the asset forfeiture laws.

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  1. This is excellent news.

  2. Are the squirrels back?

    1. Well, that worked.

  3. Is this going to change anything, or are the localities just going to partner with the feds to get the money anyways?

    1. I forgot about that part. Good thing I remembered to wear this:

      http://www.ebay.com/bhp/adidas-groin-protector

    2. Ding Ding Ding! We have a winner!

      The yokels just call up the Federal Bureau of FYTW and nothing else changes.

      1. We’ll see. I really wonder if the Feds want to bother with this small-time crap.

  4. So, Minnesota take the lead.

    Who’s next in passing this necessary reform.

  5. Civil forfeiture is nothing less than government sanctioned gangsterism.

    1. No, because gangsters don’t go on TV and boast of what a great job they’re doing on behalf of the public.

  6. Next up, Congress threatens states doing this with loss of federal law enforcement funds.

    For the children.

  7. The bill faced stiff opposition from law enforcement

    There’s a surprise.

  8. “If you can’t manage to convict a room full of guys standing around a pile of cocaine, the problem isn’t the asset forfeiture laws.”

    Nice Scott. Very nice.

  9. I only want to live in a country where guns and cocaine are traded freely in the streets.

    1. what is the exchange rate between guns and cocaine?

      1. Depends on the gun. Street price is about $150/oz.

        1. Damn! That sure has come down since the 80’s!

          1. Seriously! Used to be about $80/gram. That’s major deflation.

  10. I hate to be the voice of pessimism here, but what has happened in other states with such laws is that local LE agents seek to partner in arrests with some federal agency, and then steal the property under federal asset forfeiture law, splitting the take with the Feds.

    1. That’s what they do around here for big drug busts. Since all fines and forfeitures go to the state government, local cops team up with the feds who then give them an award.

    2. On a quick scan, they left that option open.

      Should have included language barring any state, county, or local government from taking any proceeds of forfeiture unless and until it complies with the new law.

  11. This bill is not good enough: There shall NO taking of property PERIOD.

    Any freak’n questions?

    1. but who will extort people to build the roads?

    2. What about property owned by others, who have done nothing wrong, and have certainly never been convicted? In the Liberty Dollar seizure, several years ago, hundreds of thousands or MILLIONS of dollars worth of metallic rounds being stored in a Mint warehouse and LD business offices were confiscated as “evidence” in a Federal “counterfeiting” trial. Even though the trial concluded a long time ago, with what I feel was a bogus conviction, no sentence has been YET handed down, and the rounds, most of which belonged NOT to the accused but to thousands of holders of “warehouse receipts” for Liberty Dollars, have never been made available for those owners to claim them. The government has committed literal theft!

  12. The LEO lines of argument, as per the norm are entirely self-serving and self-aggrandizing to the detriment of everyone else. It reminds me of what an Ohio State Highway Patrol officer said after the Ohio legislature criminalized hidden compartments in vehicles and they arrested their first victim. The cop said

    “We apparently caught them between runs, so to speak, so this takes away one tool they have in their illegal trade,” Lt. Michael Combs with State Highway Patrol told WKYC. “The law does help us and is on our side.”

    He “apparently” is a drug cartel smuggler because some new law says a hidden compartment is proof enough. Of course it’s on their side if you’re trying to perpetuate a legal system of arbitrary power, instead of a legal system that tries to emulate morality and justice.

    …and furthermore, the government should be destroyed.

    1. And this is why police and police unions should be barred from lobbying their legislature and prosecuted under RICO.

      1. Good point. There is no greater perpetrator of the actions outlawed under RICO than the government and it’s various bureaucrats and their unions.

  13. “Drug dealers are smart people,” [Minnesota County ?Attorneys Association Executive Director John] Kingrey said. “One of the challenges we have is we walk in the door with cocaine and $10,000 sitting on the table, with five guys saying ‘That’s not mine.’ Four of them get convicted, and the fifth guy says ‘That money was mine, I wasn’t convicted, give me the dough.’

    Notice the assumption that the guy who was acquitted is really guilty and that it is impossible for the money to really be his. And of course the assumption that all money really belongs to the police and anytime someone but the police keeps money it is a problem.

  14. Here is the thing about this bill, how horribly must these assholes have been abusing this power to the public angry enough to get this bill passed?

    I am cynical enough to understand most people don’t give a shit when the police abuse actual criminals. That is not right but that is just the way things are. If the police were only using this power to go after actual criminals, no way would this law have ever been proposed much less passed. The only reason it did pass is because the police had gotten completely out of control and were just out robbing people. If this law makes police’ jobs harder, they have only themselves to blame.

    1. As Tundra said earlier today, this is due to the ongoing fallout from our glorious Gang Task Force.

      https://reason.com/blog/2012/08…..minnesotas

      Today’s news got me thinking about that again and I realized that I don’t know if any criminal charges were filed for any of those officers. Too busy at work to check today.

  15. The bill faced stiff opposition from law enforcement

    Wait, what?

    Fearless Fosdick says the noble law enforcement professionals hate to trample people’s rights, but those baaaaad old legislatures force them to.

  16. what is the exchange rate between guns and cocaine?

    I’d probably trade half an ounce for a Thompson.

    1. Only if it full automatic and comes with both several clips and several drums.

  17. This law is meaningless. All it does is force all these cases under Federal Jurisdiction, so the stealing will continue and the police agencies will get a direct cut of the proceeds.

  18. Five legislators voted against this?

    Someone needs to go steal all their shit.

  19. So is it the case that forfeitures have to be tied to a specific case and set of charges, and that if the defendants are acquitted, the forfeiture proceeding is dismissed as well? Because if the only requirement is for a “conviction” to occur, then I expect prosecutors to charge as many crimes as possible in hopes that one of them, however minor, will lead to a conviction that legally enables the forfeiture, similar to how three-strikes laws led to long prison convictions even though one or more of the “strikes” was a non-violent drug charge or a technical “enhancement” of a lesser charge.

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