Minnesota Now Requires Conviction for Civil Forfeiture

The state of Minnesota has now done what either Congress or the federal courts should have done long ago, making it the legal requirement that the government actually convict someone of a crime before it can seize the property of someone on the grounds that it was involved in the commission or was gained through that crime.

In a big win for property rights and due process, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill yesterday to curb an abusive—and little known—police practice called civil forfeiture. Unlike criminal forfeiture, under civil forfeiture someone does not have to be convicted of a crime, or even charged with one, to permanently lose his or her cash, car or home.

The newly signed legislation, SF 874, corrects that injustice. 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 the Institute for Justice’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.

Of course the police didn’t like it — they were funding their agencies through civil forfeiture to a large degree. I’m encouraged that this passed by such a huge, bipartisan margin. It’s astonishing to me that the federal courts have not already required this. It could not be more obvious to me that civil forfeiture violates the Constitution, specifically the due process clause of the 5th Amendment.

And here’s another appalling example of the police abusing their authority through civil forfeiture, seizing $100,000 from a pair of poker players traveling through Iowa after winning the money in a big tournament in Illinois.

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  • flatlander100

    Is Minnesota the only state requiring conviction? If not, how many other states do? Anyone know?

  • D. C. Sessions

    Minnesota is rapidly becoming a leftist hellhole, and this is just another example. They’ve already blown their chance to get on the fast track to prosperity by cutting taxes like their neighbor Wisconsin (along with other leaders like Kansas and Missouri.)

    Civil forfeiture is part of the revolution in funding those essential State operations [1] which can’t be eliminated [2], along with court fees and jail charges (as recently in the news in Missouri.) By putting obstacles in the way of civil forfeiture, Minnesota is condemning itself to a dismal future of high taxes and no growth.

    [1] Subsidies for Job Creation, for instance

    [2] Good riddance to so-called “health care,” “public schools,” and “emergency serivices.”

  • daved

    @1 I think there is only one other state that requires a conviction. North Carolina, maybe? (Of course, now that the state has fallen into the hands of the conservative loons, that provision will probably be eliminated.)

  • gshelley

    “But the Minnesota County ­Attorneys Association says the bill goes too far. The group maintains that reforms have already eliminated the potential for abuse, and that the bill as written could wind up keeping more guns on the street.

    MCAA Executive Director John Kingrey said his organization supports fairness and transparency in the state’s forfeiture laws, but that the bill is ripe for abuse.

    “Drug dealers are smart people,” 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.’ ”

    Which seems to me that they are basically saying “But what about the people we really know are guilty, but can’t prove it. We won’t be able to take their stuff!”

  • lorn

    The wheels of justice turn very, very, painfully, slow.

    It is good to see them covering the distance necessary. Even it takes … what … twenty years and thousands of individuals unrighteously screwed over to get there.

  • felidae

    It is time that asset forfeiture is recognized for what it is: extrajudicial punishment I watched a segment of COPS on TV where the cops were running a prostitution sting where they were seizing the cars of those they arrested, so the arrestees not only had a criminal charge but lost their way of getting to work. In one case , they seized a car belonging to the mother of the perp–just outrageous

  • sugarfrosted

    @2 In Wisconsin’s defense, Scott Walker only didn’t get recalled because he didn’t have to follow campaign finance laws because of an intentional loop hole. As far as I view it Wisconsin don’t have a real governor, instead we just have a head plutocrat.

  • sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    Does the concept of “citizen’s arrest” exist in US law? If so, has anyone tried to apply the principal of “citizen’s civil forfeiture”?

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula PZ Myers

    #2: Please, please, please let it be so. I want to live in a leftist hellhole — it’s so much nicer than a right wing paradise.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Dr. Myers, that’s only because you are a bloodsucking parasite fattening on the loot the State steals from its citizens by force.

  • spamamander, internet amphibian

    D.C…. you’re getting way too good at that. Maybe you should be blood tested for Conservative Pathogens.

  • D. C. Sessions

    I’ve been practicing elsewhere.

    The trick is to imagine bad Hollywood Russian (or Revolutionary French) propaganda, and just change it to fit wingnut content [1]. Revolutionaries are revolutionaries, only the flags change.

    [1] Didn’t hurt to be in college in the Vietnam era.