Minnesota lawmakers reached a tentative deal over the weekend on a package of criminal justice and policing reforms, including new restrictions on civil asset forfeiture and no-knock raids.
Minnesota Public Radio reports that the large compromise bill would require, among other things, more justifications and oversight of no-knock warrants and stricter rules for when law enforcement can use confidential informants and jailhouse snitches. It would also limit when police can seize vehicles and create protections for innocent owners whose cars are seized under asset forfeiture, a practice that allows law enforcement to seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity.
Minnesota would join other states that have passed policing reforms in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Police reform legislation collapsed in the Minnesota legislature last year amid a partisan standoff between the Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate. State lawmakers have until late Wednesday to pass a public safety package and avoid a partial government shutdown.
Because of prior reforms, Minnesota already requires a criminal conviction before assets can be forfeited in civil court, but supporters of the legislation say it will further protect owners. The legislation would also restrict cash seizures under $1,500.
"Including forfeiture reforms in the public safety and judiciary agreement is just what the numbers call for," Minnesota State Auditor Julie Blaha said in a press statement. "Based on our data, the language in the agreement starts the right conversation, particularly around small forfeitures."
The Minnesota State Auditor's Office reported that forfeitures of $1,500 or less made up 75 percent of the forfeiture cases it monitored. The average size of an individual forfeiture in that category was $473.
Law enforcement groups say asset forfeiture is a crucial tool to disrupt organized crime like drug trafficking by targeting its illicit proceeds. However, civil liberties groups point to numbers like those above to argue that lax oversight and perverse incentives lead police to go fishing for petty seizures, not cartel lords.
More than half of U.S. states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform over the last decade because of those concerns.
The Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm that has challenged forfeiture laws in several states, gave Minnesota "D+" grade in a recent 50-state survey of asset forfeiture laws, noting that innocent owners whose cars were seized bore the burden of proving their innocence in court.
Progressive state lawmakers say the compromise deal doesn't go far enough to hold police accountable.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz also announced Monday that he would take executive action on several policing issues, such as expanding transparency requirements and mandating that agencies create body cam policies.