Property Rights

North Dakota Senate Says It's Fine for Police to Seize Property Without a Conviction

Meanwhile, new reforms in Minnesota improve on a 2014 law requiring criminal conviction before property can be forfeited to law enforcement


Dave Arntson/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Two states in the upper Midwest this week considered making changes to state laws allowing police to seize property from innocent people suspected of committing a crime. Only one succeeded in protecting property rights.

State lawmakers in North Dakota killed a proposal that would have required law enforcement to get a criminal conviction before seizing property though civil asset forfeiture proceedings. Meanwhile, in neighboring Minnesota, a state that already requires a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture can occur, state lawmakers passed and Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill to strengthen that 2014 law by making it harder for cops to seize jointly owned property after a DUI conviction.

Both bills demonstrate the ongoing fight between law enforcement special interests, which argue civil forfeiture is necessary to stop criminal behavior (and often benefit from the process by using seized assets to pad their department budgets), and reformers who see forfeiture as a fundamentally un-just process that victimizes innocent property owners.

In North Dakota, it seems the police have the upper hand. According to the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm, North Dakota has some of the worst asset forfeiture laws in the country, and that won't be changing after the state Senate unanimously voted down a bill to require a criminal conviction before prosecutors could seize property or money involved in the crime. The bill had passed the state House in February with a 50-42 vote despite opposition from law enforcement groups.

In addition to requiring a conviction before state and local police could engage in forfeiture, the bill would have prohibited police departments from passing forfeiture cases off to federal law enforcement authorities, a practice known as "equitable sharing" that is sometimes used to get around state-level restrictions on forfeiture.

Unlike North Dakota, Minnesota has some of the nation's best asset forfeiture laws. A 2014 law made Minnesota the second state in the nation to require a criminal conviction before forfeiture could occur, and Gov. Mark Dayton added to those protections for property owners this week by signing a bill to prohibit the forfeiture of jointly owned property, like cars, in the aftermath of a DUI arrest, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

The bill was prompted, in part, by a lawsuit challenging the seizure of a car by police in Isanti County, Minnesota. The car was jointly owned by a husband and wife, but was seized by police following the wife's 2006 arrest for DUI. The husband, David Laase, argued that he was innocent and that he should not lose possession of the car because of his wife's crime. The state Supreme Court ultimately upheld the forfeiture.

"This reform will open the courthouse doors to wives, parents and other innocent owner claimants and overturn a troubling ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court," said Lee McGrath, managing attorney of the Institute for Justice's Minnesota office, in a statement.

With the new reforms signed into law this week, Minnesota continues to be a national leader in restricting the abusive practice of asset forfeiture. On the western banks of the Red River, though, property rights remain significantly less secure.

NEXT: Sen. Rand Paul Wants to Use Fight over Trump Snooping to Pass Surveillance Reforms

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  1. If the police were taking property from innocent people, I’m sure David Muir would have reportd on it.

    1. he has 175 publications most every news show on tv but americans excell at stupidity

  2. They seize property in DUI cases? Well, I guess alcohol is a drug. They should be taking bars where the alcohol was served.

  3. One feels lucky to have had an interaction with local law enforcement that resulted in everyone’s rights being more-or-less respected. I get indignant even if I know I’m in the wrong. Can’t imagine what it would feel like to have the cops actually fuck you over, or to be a part of a community where you were at constant risk of such. One would almost be tempted not to respect the community at all.

    1. What happened to your usual recommendation of dropping to your knees and submitting to the authority of society?

      Are you not well?

  4. So the cops argue “civil forfeiture is necessary to stop criminal behavior” and wonder why we don’t trust them.

    In the first place, if you don’t have enough evidence of criminal behavior to convict them, how do you know they’re engaging in criminal behavior? And secondly, locking somebody in prison stops criminal behavior, seizing their stuff is just a cost of doing business for a criminal. So, no, civil forfeiture does not stop criminal behavior.

    Unless by “criminal behavior” you don’t mean “behavior that is criminal” but “behavior that in and of itself is not criminal but which is also engaged in by criminals”, which would include walking, breathing, blinking, etc. and would implicate 100% of the human race and about 99% of the rest of the lifeforms on this planet. So is that your end game – stop people from behaving like human beings and start behaving like inanimate objects, mere props for your egotistical power-tripping psychopathic view of reality? And you wonder why people don’t trust cops, you lunatic.

  5. Once people work out where we live on a flat plane then Trump has squandered 19.5 billion hard earned American dollars in just 2017 on another NASA fabulous fraud and civil asset forfeiture can go to town on NASA who will have no where to run.
    Go NASA go we got all bets on you.

  6. Unfortunately that’s typical here in the Peace Garden State. Sadly, nothing will be done because we live in a one- party state – and the happy-talk press here are no help at all.

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