Earlier this month, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a bill the puts an end to the abusive practice of civil forfeiture. As this Forbes article explains, the new legislation – SF 874 – says that the government can only take a person’s property if a criminal conviction or its equivalent (such as a guilty plea or participation as an informant) is obtained. The law also shifts the burden of proof onto the government.
Prior to the new legislation, law enforcement was allowed to seize property – such as cash, vehicles, firearms, and jewelry – immediately if it suspected that the property was related to drugs or criminal activity, even if no criminal charges were filed and/or no criminal conviction was obtained. Once the property was seized, the property owner needed to file a civil forfeiture lawsuit in district court within 60 days seeking to retain the property; if such lawsuit was not filed, the property owner surrendered their property rights. Moreover, the property owner bore the significant burden of proof, and even an acquittal of the drug charges did not automatically nullify the forfeiture and return the property to the rightful owner.
As Lee McGrath, the executive director of the Institute for Justice’s Minnesota chapter, said, “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.”
According to Forbes, the average value of forfeited property was approximately $1,250. Because the cost of regaining seized property is often costly and time-consuming, many property owners who have had their property seized do not file a civil forfeiture case and never regain ownership of their property.
Not only did the prior civil forfeiture process lack due process protections, but according to Forbes, law enforcement can keep up to 90 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property, which creates an incentive for police to profit from the civil forfeiture process. In fact, a report by the Institute for Justice, “A Stacked Deck: How Minnesota’s Civil Forfeiture Laws Put Citizens’ Property at Risk,” found that forfeiture revenue grew by 75 percent from 2003 to 2010, which resulted in a nearly $30 million windfall for police. According to the state auditor’s office, in 2012 alone, there were 6,851 property seizures worth a collective $6.7 million, despite the fact that the crime rate actually dropped in Minnesota.
Contact a Minneapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have been charged with a crime, it is important to act quickly to protect your rights. Under the new law, your property is protected from forfeiture prior to a criminal conviction. A criminal defense lawyer can be instrumental in ensuring that your rights are protected, that your property isn’t illegally seized, and that you get the best defense possible.
If you have been charged with a drug crime or are facing other criminal charges, contact Keller Law Offices at (952) 913-1421 today to schedule a free consultation with one of our Minneapolis criminal defense lawyers.