Minnesota lawmakers change civil forfeiture law

Forfeiture has long been a tool law enforcement use when battling issues such as drug crimes and driving while intoxicated. An individual found guilty of dealing drugs, for example, may lose his or her home. Civil forfeiture, however, is based on the idea that the property itself committed a crime, not the owner.

Law enforcement agencies in Minnesota have specific codes by which they are required to abide when it comes to seizing property. Until recently, civil forfeiture was not limited to a criminal conviction and therefore left the door open for abuse.

Allegations of abuse

Before SF 874 was signed into law this year, people who had been acquitted in a criminal court were subject to losing their items in civil court. According to the state auditor, property that is forfeited typically is not worth much, as the average value is around $1,250. The lack of regulations, made it easy for law enforcement to abuse the property forfeiture law. Many law-abiding citizens experienced the threat of losing their homes, businesses and even small items, such as shoes and televisions.

Law enforcement agencies are entitled to keep as much as 90 percent of the proceeds of civil forfeiture. Despite small average values, the revenues are skyrocketing; the Institute for Justice reports that Minnesota law enforcement collected $30 million in 2010. Combine free reign with the right motives, and it is unsurprising that 8,500 people filed lawsuits in the state from 2007 to 2013, many of whom claimed their items were taken illegally.

For example, a man in Minnesota – a former U.S. senator – lent his SUV to a relative who was charged with DUI and drug possession while driving the vehicle. As a result, law enforcement seized the SUV, and it could take months for the former senator to get it back.

Establishing new guidelines

The new law, which will go into effect on Aug. 1, 2014, will change the landscape of civil forfeiture. Under the regulations, an individual may have to turn over property if the following apply:

  • The person is found guilty of a crime
  • The person becomes an informant
  • The person turns in a guilty plea

The government may also seize property if it attains the equivalent to one of the above examples. The law is a milestone for property rights’ advocates and is a step in the right direction for making the legal system just. Anyone who has questions regarding this new law should contact an attorney.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

Confidential informants may provide integral information to help build criminal investigations, but how reliable is that information when they are receiving payment for their services? To protect them, state law requires the identity of informants be kept confidential. For those facing criminal charges, however, this creates challenges in questioning the accuracy and validity of the information given at trial.
Stay calm and compose after getting accused of a crime but not charged in Minneapolis, MN. Do not discuss the facts of your case with anyone, including your relatives and family members. Hire a criminal defense attorney with a demonstrated record of winning cases like yours. Your attorney will discuss your rights, guide you on how to cooperate with law enforcement within the legal boundaries, and build a solid defense strategy to fight the charges you could face in the future.
Expungement and sealing of records in Minnesota affect how your criminal history appears to government agencies and the public. The main difference between the two legal actions is that expungement permanently removes past arrests, criminal charges, or convictions from private and public databases, while sealing hides the criminal record from the public. Courts, government entities, and law enforcement agencies can access sealed criminal records.