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This Map Details Whether Asset Forfeiture Laws in Your State Are Good or Awful

(Spoiler: Chances are they’re probably awful.)

The liberty-loving activists at FreedomWorks has produced a useful tool to examine the quality of civil asset forfeiture laws (the rules that allow police to seize and often keep money and property from busts) across the states. They've put together a new map that grades each state and the federal government on the basis of the following questions:

  • What is the standard of proof the government must meet to forfeit a person's property?
  • Who has the burden of prove innocence or mistake—the government or the property owner?
  • What percentage of forfeiture funds are retained by law enforcement?

In case it's not immediately clear, the best states would be ones that require the highest standards of proof of criminal behavior (beyond reasonable doubt) for seizure, states that require the government prove the property was involved in crimes rather than the citizen having to prove innocence, and states where law enforcement retains less (or none) of the forfeited funds, thereby avoiding economic incentives to abuse the system.

As the map below shows, very few states can proudly declare that they've put their citizenry first in the creation of their asset forfeiture laws (click the map for a larger picture):

Click for larger mapFreedomWorks

Note that the top grade goes to New Mexico, which recently passed massive reforms to its civil asset forfeiture rules. They are the only full "A" grade on the map. FreedomWorks' full report explaining each state's grade notes:

The Legislature recently passed reforms and they were signed into law by Governor Martinez. The state now requires a criminal conviction before property can be forfeited and all forfeiture funds now go directly to the state's general fund. Additionally, state and local law enforcement are prohibited from sending seized property to the federal government for "equitable sharing," where they would receive up to 80% of the proceeds.

The only other state on the top of grade chart is North Carolina, which earned an A-. They don't get full credit because the state puts the burden of proof on the property owner to prove his or her innocence. After that, the grades start going downhill very quickly. Only a handful of states (and the District of Columbia) get B's, and the rest are all C's or lower.

FreedomWorks also grades the federal asset forfeiture system and gives it a dreadful D-, something people should keep in mind whenever they think the Department of Justice can fix whatever ails our local law enforcement agencies. The standard of proof for federal asset seizure is low, the property owner bears all the burden of proving innocence, and the feds can keep it all. The "Equitable Sharing Program" allows state and municipal law enforcement agencies to "partner" with federal agencies for busts, allowing (even encouraging) local agencies to bypass whatever restrictions states put into place to cash in on this D- system and keep 80 percent of what they seize. New Mexico's new regulations forbid the law enforcement agencies in the state from participating in this system. California is now poised to possibly do the same. Michigan is working on a package of reforms that don't go nearly as far.

An important note on these grades: The state grades do not take into account whether law enforcement agencies bypass the state laws and use the Department of Justice's program. The Institute for Justice, the legal activists who also help fight for forfeiture reform, had their own set of grades they produced back in 2010. North Carolina, for example, got a lower grade (a C+) because law enforcement agencies would get millions in proceeds from asset forfeiture from the federal government, even though the state itself does not let police keep what they seize.

Below the fold, the full FreedomWorks report is embedded.

Civil Asset Forfeiture: Grading the States

Photo Credit: FreedomWorks

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  • Another David||

    Very surprised it's not just the word "AWFUL" in 200-point font.

  • R C Dean||

    The state now requires a criminal conviction before property can be forfeited and all forfeiture funds now go directly to the state's general fund. Additionally, state and local law enforcement are prohibited from sending seized property to the federal government for "equitable sharing," where they would receive up to 80% of the proceeds.

    That's how you do it. Props to NM. Too bad nobody ever follows NM's lead in anything.

    Still, the first one is always the hardest.

  • Thomas O.||

    That's what she said!

    Seriously, though... NM is looking pretty good right now to this Texan. My mom has a piece of property in Taos County, but it's one of those cheap plots out in the middle of the desert with no utilities.

  • Zeb||

    Well, nice to see that stealing shit from people without due process is something that transcends the red/blue state divide. Isn't it nice when both sides can work together to fuck people over?

  • ||

    By "fuck people over", I assume you mean look after the interests of taxpayers and law abiding residents who deserve to have their streets safe at night.

    Just ask an Ass AG and they'll tell you that's their sole purpose.

  • Zeb||

    Safe from the horrible threat of people who pay for things in cash.

  • ||

    I know two assistanat prosecutors. One was Mr. Ego in high school. The other is incredibly scarily immature. The idea that these people are given special powers to ruin peoples' lives under color of law leaves me hating life.

  • Thomas O.||

    ...o'er the land of the FYTW, and the home of the busts-for-profiiiit!

  • John Thacker||

    They don't get full credit because the state puts the burden of proof on the property owner to prove his or her innocence.

    Not exactly. The property owner has to be convicted, which takes burden of proof on the state. However, once convicted, the property owner has to prove that the property wasn't involved in the crime.

    In any case, the real problem with North Carolina is that it has great state laws for state forfeiture, but doesn't ban equitable sharing with the federal government, which is widely used to evade the state law. That's why the IJ report also gives NC a A- on the state law, but gives it a D on evasion of that law, for an overall middling grade.

  • ||

    So it's like the federal government when it comes to reining in abusuve departments like the IRS? Or the state department maintaining emails in accordance with the law: the law is good. Their adherence is fucking abysmal.

  • John Thacker||

    Interesting to see the differences with the Institute for Justice report and map. They like Maine, for example, and heavily penalize North Carolina for having great state laws ("civil forfeiture essentially does not exist in North Carolina") but wide use of federal equitable sharing to evade those laws.

    The IJ report does not appear to have been updated for New Mexico's great new law.

  • John Thacker||

    And my apologies Scott, I do see you've noted that at the end of your post.

  • From the Tundra||

    Minnesota reformed their civil asset forfeiture laws in 2014.

    This is what happens when you have a "Gang Strike Force" go full Vic Mackey.

  • RBS||

    Woohoo, we got an F! Way to go SC, keep piling on the shit points.

  • darkflame||

    I know right? To be fair, I haven't heard of any asset forfeiture cases here, we might be so bad just because the cops don't abuse it often enough to spawn outrage

  • Puddin' Stick||

    Why hasn't someone taken this to the Supreme Court on the grounds that it's a blatant evasion of the Fifth Amendment?

    No person [...] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
  • From the Tundra||

    SC won't even look at blatant violations of the second. Why would they give a shit about the fifth?

  • Zeb||

    Well, that's an awfully defeatist attitude. They occasionally get something right by accident.

  • From the Tundra||

    It's a negative-ass week. Next week will be better.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    The elections in Turkey are so far best news of a shit-week.

  • John Thacker||

    They fired that police officer, and indicted him, for example.

  • bassjoe||

    Alert me when he's convicted.

  • John Thacker||

    Firing is something. Most states won't do that, thanks to police collective bargaining.

  • R C Dean||

    Because SCOTUS has already ruled that its perfectly OK.

    See, no "person" is being deprived of anything. Nobody is even named in the legal action to seize the property. Only the property itself is named, and it has no rights. The property is taken by the state, and apparently not from anyone. Now, if you want to insert yourself into the legal case, go right ahead, but that's you deciding you want to file a competing (and inferior, since you have the burden of proof) claim to the property.

    Perfectly legit, see?

  • bassjoe||

    Bingo. But it's even weirder than this.

    It's a so-called legal fiction. The property itself is participating in alleged criminal acts, not the owner, and can thus be seized without constitutional due process rights.

    It was allowed with lower standards of proof because the Mafia was good at hiding assets behind other persons, shell companies, etc.

    Nobody ever guessed these laws would be abused to seize a traveler's car because a dog supposedly smelled marijuana. Nobody! (Sarcasm)

  • Alsø alsø wik||

    on that note, there needs to be a far more narrow definition of property that's "involved" in a crime. the original intent was to seize property that directly facilitated the commission of the crime. it was not supposed to be any random property that just happened to be at the scene of the arrest.

  • Thomas O.||

    I'd be happy with a law that states if a suspect is acquitted of a crime, their property must be returned to them immediately... and that accusing property is strictly outlawed, or at least allowed only if no one claims the property.

  • Spoonman.||

    Thanks. Contacted my Pennsylvania state representative about SB 869, which is mentioned in the report as a New Mexico-style reform.

  • SimonJester||

    Oh ... you are cute... I think it is adorable that you think they will listen to you! You actually think you so-called elected representatives give a shit about what any of us think? Well, I don't want to spoil your good vibes. I am sure YOUR representative will take immediate action because a plebian (and Reasonroid!) is willing to express an opinion.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    I haven't heard of any forfeiture cases here in KY since I've lived here (12 years), but I know that a good chunk of the sheriff's cars I spot on the stretch of US 68 through Jessamine Co were very obviously stolen via forfeiture.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    hmmm...I live in NC and had a car taken from me for letting a friend use it who proceeded to get a DWI while driving it. I was told to talk to the Clerk of Court in the county I live in. I went to the office and some secretary explained to me that MAD would be...mad if they didn't take my car and there was nothing I could do about it. A-?

  • CampingInYourPark||

    MADD, rather

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    What the hell does MADD have to do with anything? Those leeches have wormed their way into the gravy train all too well.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    The explanation I was given was that they "watch" what happens in these cases and create a political stink for those that don't tow the lion and seize these drunken cars/

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I wonder if MADD gets a cut

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Hell if I know. What puzzled me more than any of that was how the CofC became an arbiter of whether my property could be taken or not

  • SimonJester||

    I like that the cars are drunken. This makes self-driving cars all the more exciting.

  • DenverJay||

    I believe that MADD is given free rent in many county admin and judicial complexes. I also seem to remember MADD running classes or something that the courts require all people convicted of DUI to attend.
    I leave the Googling to you, dear reader.

  • William Pilgrim||

    I would guess it is no coincidence that the only state with an "A" grade also had a libertarian leaning Republican governor.

  • William Pilgrim||

    And the entire South is awful. No surprise there.

  • Alan@.4||

    Sad to note is the fact of a single A grade for the entire country, with just a couple of B's/B+. The liberal North East doesn't look all that impressive to me.

  • John Thacker||

    NC is in the South.

  • dudemeister||

    WTF, Florida gets a C? I'm shocked.

  • Alan@.4||

    That a single state obtained an A grade, with just a couple of B's/B+ is a particularly stinging accusation, more stinging is it's truth. Whatever has happened to/in this country? Who is responsible for the existing sad situation?

  • rudehost||

    "Who is responsible for the existing sad situation?"

    The jackasses who live here which is dang near close to all 300 million of them.

  • SimonJester||

    Don't forget, government, including the enforcement arm called the police, is the things we decide to do together.

  • simplybe||

    Only .01% of that 300 million has ever had any input into making laws or regulations. The other 99.99% has never had the chance to vote on any law. If you ever wakeup to the illusion that you actually have no say in this government you might get angry. Until then please don't blame the majority for this mess.

  • John Galt||

    Maybe more liberty lovers will now be drawn to my "B+" rated state. If not, then the never-ending steady influx of statist f*cks is certain to destroy this place.

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  • Thomas O.||

    I'd say it was high time for a constitutional amendment, but with that many states addicted to police plundering, no way in hell would it get ratified.

    Fourth Amendment, we hardly knew ye.

  • simplybe||

    First civil asset forfieture may be the worst law since the internment of the Japanese. Second if some motorist killed the cop stealing his money why would any jury convict him. Has anyone yet got it through their heads that people in general are getting a bit sick and tired of the bullies in blue that government wants us to worship. There are cops out there are killing and injurying innocent people everyday. There are cops out there that are raping women and having sex with underage girls. There are cops out there that are more corrupt than most felons in prison. I do realize that they are a small minority but their fellow GOOD cops turn a blind eye and keep their mouths shut. Never believe they are there to protect you. They are there to generate income for their local government and to keep the poor trash away from the respectable folks. Sorry about the rant but I am just so sick and tired of everyone saying "Just comply " The people are not the problem. Cops and government are.

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  • Htos1||

    Florida has really changed since the "tenure" of the Jebster!

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