Civil Asset Forfeiture

Maine Becomes 4th State To Repeal Civil Asset Forfeiture

A new law will require a criminal conviction before property can be seized.

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Maine became the fourth state in the nation to abolish civil asset forfeiture, a practice where law enforcement can seize property if they suspect it is connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is not convicted of a crime.

After a bill passed by the state legislature, LD 1521, took effect without the governor's signature yesterday, Maine officially repealed its civil forfeiture laws, joining Nebraska, New Mexico, and North Carolina.

Law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture is a crucial tool to disrupt drug trafficking and organized crime by targeting their ill-gotten proceeds. However, groups like the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, say civil forfeiture provides too few due process protections for property owners, who often bear the burden of proving their innocence, and creates too many perverse profit incentives for police.

"Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on due process and private property rights in America today," Institute for Justice Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath said in a press release. McGrath says Maine's new law "ends an immense injustice and will ensure that only convicted criminals—and not innocent Mainers—lose their property to forfeiture."

The new law will allow property forfeiture without a criminal conviction in only a few narrow circumstances, such as when it is abandoned or the owner dies. The law also creates a right to a prompt post-seizure hearing for owners and requires the Maine Department of Public Safety to post forfeiture reports on its website.

(In 2018, the Maine Beacon reported that, despite a law requiring the Department of Public Safety to create quarterly reports of seized property, it had never done so.)

More significantly, Maine's new law ends the so-called "equitable sharing loophole," which allows state and local police to partner with federal law enforcement and move forfeiture cases to federal court. In doing so, local law enforcement can evade stricter state laws and keep up to 80 percent of the forfeiture proceeds. The other 20 percent goes into a Justice Department fund that distributes revenues to participating law enforcement agencies across the country.

The Institute for Justice reported that Maine law enforcement collected more than $14 million through equitable sharing over the past two decades. In contrast, just over $3 million was forfeited under state law between 2009 and 2019.

Over the past decade, more than half of all U.S. states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform in response to media investigations and reports by civil liberties groups that found the practice frequently ensnared innocent owners. Reason has reported extensively on civil liberties abuses involving civil asset forfeiture: petty seizures, shakedowns, and kicking people out of their houses for minor drug crimes.

In April, Arizona became the 16th state to require a criminal conviction before police can proceed to forfeit property under its civil asset forfeiture laws. (Unlike the states that have completely abolished civil forfeiture, these states still allow property to be forfeited in civil court once a criminal conviction has been obtained.)

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  1. More significantly, Maine’s new law ends the so-called “equitable sharing loophole,” which allows state and local police to partner with federal law enforcement and move forfeiture cases to federal court. In doing so, local law enforcement can evade stricter state laws and keep up to 80 percent of the forfeiture proceeds.

    They, as in local cops, ain’t gonna like that. They like to parade around in expensive cars emblazoned with “WE STOLE THIS FROM A DRUG DEALER” on the windows.

    As a Maine resident though, I’m happy to see this. Seems like the assholes who seek out that job have one less excuse to be a cunt.

    1. Hopefully more states will follow their example.

      I’m a little bit worried that some departments will look for ways to stretch the meaning of the word ‘abandoned’ – i.e. ‘Look your Honor, we found this abandoned cash in a safe in his basement while we were looking for other contraband (which we didn’t find) and we would like to keep it.’

      Like the FBI in that safe deposit box raid.

    2. Does this mean you know Stephen King?

      1. You can drive by his house in Bangor.

  2. 4 down, 46 to go.

    1. 4 down 53 to go. Obama fixed that for you.

  3. More significantly, Maine’s new law ends the so-called “equitable sharing loophole,” which allows state and local police to partner with federal law enforcement and move forfeiture cases to federal court. In doing so, local law enforcement can evade stricter state laws and keep up to 80 percent of the forfeiture proceeds.

    This is the most important part. I went in looking to see if there was some kind of “partnering” exception and it looks like Maine did a good job here.

    1. 2nd that! I too was apprehensive, waiting for the loophole to still exist.

    2. There is still a little bit of an “equitable sharing loophole”.

      From the link to the bill in the article:

      25 Unless seized property under this section includes United States currency in excess of
      26 $100,000, a law enforcement agency, prosecuting authority, state agency, county or
      27 municipality may not enter into an agreement to transfer or refer property seized under this
      28 section to a federal agency directly, indirectly, through adoption, through an
      29 intergovernmental joint task force or by other means that circumvent the provisions of this
      30 section.

  4. Bueno.

  5. One less state for democrats to use that awful mess of legal stupidity.

    1. Which is why the Democratically controlled legislature repealed it? It’s less a Democrat/Republican divide than an authoritarian/civil liberties divide.

  6. See? Sullum helped looters realize that looting–especially pious, prohibitionist looting–wrecked most Latin American economies by 1992. Tariff seizures metastasized into bald robbery with Czar Biden’s Drug Abuse hysteria of 1986. Bush dynasty faith-based asset forfeiture crashed the economy in 2008 and two Flash Crashes alerted Obama’s boy Geithner of the danger. You betcha those licenses to crash the banking system are being torn up.

  7. Every now and then, the common folk win one…

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