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Asset Forfeiture Laws by State

Suppose local law enforcement takes your property, yet they have not convicted you of a crime. Sounds like an Orwellian fantasy, far from something that would happen in modern America, right? Think again.

Civil asset forfeiture occurs when the government permanently takes a person's property. This can occur even though the person does not face criminal charges or have a pending criminal case.

How Civil Forfeiture Happens

To seize property, the government files a civil action against the property itself. This action allows law enforcement officers to seize property they suspect someone obtained by or used to further criminal activity. More specifically, police can seize property if they believe it was:

  • Used to commit a crime
  • Obtained through criminal means

For example, if police believe you bought your car with money from drug trafficking, they may use civil asset forfeiture to take your vehicle. In some states, the law enforcement agency can sell the seized assets and keep the profits. The agency typically sells the property at auction.

Law enforcement often receives all the proceeds from a sale. But some states use the proceeds for specific programs, like education or compensating victims.

Civil asset forfeiture differs from criminal asset forfeiture. Criminal forfeiture is a type of federal forfeiture. It occurs when a property owner forfeits property used or derived from a crime. But it occurs only after a conviction for that crime.

Federal vs. State Law

Civil asset forfeiture laws differ from state to state. Generally, they do not require definitive proof of the property owner's guilt. Often, police only need to show by a preponderance of evidence that someone used or obtained the property through wrongdoing. The government may seize property whether or not it is contraband.

In 2017, federal law strengthened the government's ability to seize assets. The Equitable Sharing Program allows state and local police agencies to collaborate with federal agencies to seize assets from individuals. These agencies can then transfer those seizures to federal control.

The federal government eventually takes all the funds and returns a percentage to the state agency. Critics have sharply criticized this method for circumventing state laws in some cases.

Asset Forfeiture Laws by State

Below, you will find a list of asset forfeiture laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The list includes each state's burden of proof for seizing property. It also includes law enforcement's reporting requirements (if any such requirement exists), and which entities have access to forfeiture proceeds.

Asset forfeiture laws change regularly, with state legislatures frequently introducing new legislation. Be sure to check with an attorney in your state to learn if there have been any recent updates to forfeiture laws.

State

Asset Forfeiture Statute

Law Enforcement's Burden of Proof

Reporting Requirements/Where Forfeiture Proceeds Go

Alabama

Ala. Code § 20-2-93(h)

A preponderance of the evidence; Alabama can seize any property, proceeds, or instrumentality of any kind if used in the commission of a crime, except for dollar amounts under $250.00, and vehicles worth less than $5,000.00.

None, 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Alaska

Alaska Stat. §§ 17.30.112(c), 17.30.11017.30.114

Probable cause

None, 100% of property goes to law enforcement if the property is worth $5,000 or less and is something other than money, and up to 75% in all other cases

Arizona

Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-2314.0113-4304

Clear and convincing evidence and a criminal conviction

Law enforcement agencies must file quarterly forfeiture reports with the AZ Criminal Justice Commission, which must aggregate those reports and submit them to the Legislature. Law enforcement keeps 100% of forfeiture funds

Arkansas

Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-64-50510-4-417

Criminal conviction required but can be waived by the court; Once a conviction is established, prosecutors must prove the property is subject to forfeiture by a preponderance of the evidence

Law enforcement must submit reports of seizures and final disposition to the Arkansas Drug Director, which maintains the Asset Seizure Tracking System database. 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

California

Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 11488.41148911495

Beyond a reasonable doubt for cash and negotiable instruments between $25,000.00 and $40,000.00, and only if the suspect is criminally convicted; Clear and convincing evidence for cash and negotiable instruments that exceed $40,000.00

The California Attorney General must compile annual aggregate forfeiture reports using data provided by counties. 65% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement; 15% to the county and/or city of the agency that made the seizure or sought forfeiture; 10% to prosecutors; and 1% to a prosecutors' trade association fund for purposes of enforcing environmental laws

Colorado

Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 16-13-50916-13-70116-13-311

Clear and convincing evidence

75% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement; Prosecutors must file annual forfeiture reports with the Department of Local Affairs

Connecticut

Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 54-33g54-36a54-36p

A criminal conviction must precede permanent forfeiture; Following a conviction, the plaintiff's burden is clear and convincing evidence

Seizing agencies must maintain an inventory of seized property; 70% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement. In cases of sexual exploitation, prostitution, and sex trafficking, 100% of the forfeiture proceeds go to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund

Delaware

Del. Code Ann. §§ 16-478411-411311-4116

Probable cause; The owner can rebut by a preponderance of the evidence

None, 100% of the proceeds go to the Special Law Enforcement Assistance Fund (SLEAF); If at any time the amount of funds segregated in the SLEAF exceeds $500,000, the excess is to be deposited in the General Fund

District of Columbia

D.C. Code §§ 41-30841-31041-312

A preponderance of the evidence, but clear and convincing evidence for:

Motor vehicles

Real property

Up to $1,000.00 in currency

Note: If the property is the primary residence of the owner, the owner of the property must be convicted of the offense.

The Attorney General and Metropolitan Police Department must create aggregate forfeiture reports; All currency and proceeds from sales of forfeited property go to the General Fund of the District of Columbia

Florida

Fla. Stat. §§ 932.7061,

932.7062932.704,

932.7055

Beyond a reasonable doubt

Every law enforcement agency must submit a report to the Department of Law Enforcement; All forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement, but any law enforcement agency that acquires $15,000.00 or more in a fiscal year must donate 25% of the proceeds to a program which addresses drug abuse education or treatment

Georgia

Ga. Code Ann. §§ 9-16-69-16-179-16-19

A preponderance of the evidence

10% of the forfeiture proceeds go to the district attorney's office; the remaining proceeds go to law enforcement. Law enforcement must report to:

Governing jurisdiction

State agencies

District attorneys with the state auditor

Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia

Hawaii

Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 712A-12712A-16

A preponderance of the evidence

The Office of the Attorney General must aggregate law enforcement forfeiture reports and submit them to the Legislature. All forfeited property goes to the Attorney General, who may transfer it to a local or state entity or sell it at a public auction; Forfeited currency goes to law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys

Idaho

Idaho Code § 37-2744

A preponderance of the evidence

Local law enforcement must provide an annual report to the local prosecutor; 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Illinois

725 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 150/5150/9720 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 550/12

A preponderance of the evidence

Law enforcement must provide an inventory of drug-related seizures to the Director of the Department of State Police and report all property seized for forfeiture to the state's attorney for the county/city in which the property was seized. 65% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement; 12.5% to the Office of the State's Attorney in the county where the prosecution took place; 12.5% to the Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor

Indiana

Ind. Code §§ 33-39-8-5(7)34-24-1-434-24-1-4.5

A preponderance of the evidence

Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council must aggregate forfeiture reports submitted by judicial districts; Funds go to either the Commons Schools Fund or to reimburse law enforcement for their efforts in seizing the property

Iowa

Iowa Code § 809A.12

Generally, if the value of the property is under $5,000, a conviction must precede civil asset forfeiture; The burden of proof in civil court is clear and convincing evidence

None, 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Kansas

Kan Stat. Ann. §§ 60-411360.4117

A preponderance of the evidence

Law enforcement must submit forfeiture reports to the Kansas Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Repository body; 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Kentucky

Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 218A.410218A.440

Clear and convincing evidence to forfeit real property but need only show “slight evidence of traceability" to a crime for other property

Law enforcement must report their forfeitures to the Auditor of Public Accounts and to the secretary of justice and public safety; 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Louisiana

La. Stat. Ann. §§ 40:260640:261240:2616

A preponderance of the evidence

Prosecutors must file annual seizure reports with the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of state government; 80% goes to law enforcement, the remaining 20% goes to the criminal court fund

Maine

Me. Stat. tit. 15, §§ 582558225821

A criminal conviction and a preponderance of the evidence

No forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement, all forfeiture proceeds go to the general fund with some exceptions; Maine does not allow civil asset forfeiture

Maryland

Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. Titles 12 and 13

Clear and convincing, in most circumstances

None, no forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Massachusetts

Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 94C, § 47

Probable cause, then burden switches to owner to prove why exemptions do not apply

Law enforcement must maintain an inventory of seized property and file annual reports; 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

(Note: There is a movement to abolish civil asset forfeiture in Massachusetts)

Michigan

Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 28.111–.117; 333.7521

Preponderance of the evidence for most crimes; Clear and convincing evidence for drug crimes

Law enforcement must file annual forfeiture reports with the State Police, which must compile those reports and submit them to the state; Up to 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Minnesota

Minn. Stat. §§ 609.5315609.531 subd. 6a

Clear and convincing evidence

90% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement; Law enforcement must report forfeitures to the state auditor on a monthly basis, and the auditor must make annual reports to the state

Mississippi

Miss. Code Ann. §§ 41-29-179(2)97-17-4

Clear and convincing evidence

None, seizing agencies must report forfeitures to the State Auditor and to the secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet; 80% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement (generally)

Missouri

Mo. Rev. Stat. § 513.607

A preponderance of the evidence and a criminal conviction or guilty plea

Agencies must report seizures to the prosecuting attorney or attorney general, who must then create annual aggregate reports and submit them to the state auditor; No forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement, all go to fund schools

Montana

Mont. Code Ann. § 44-12-210

Criminal conviction required first, then a showing of clear and convincing evidence to forfeit property

None, up to 100% to law enforcement with some exceptions

Nebraska

Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 28-43128-1439.02

Criminal conviction required for forfeiture, then clear and convincing evidence

Agencies to provide annual detailed reports to the state auditor on assets they seize; 50% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Nevada

Nev. Rev. Stat. §§ 179.119, 179.1187, 179.1164, 179.1173

Clear and convincing evidence and a criminal conviction

Agencies must submit annual forfeiture reports to the Office of the Attorney General, and the Attorney General must then aggregate those reports; Up to 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement, with some exceptions

New Hampshire

N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. Title 30 § 318-B:17-b

A preponderance of the evidence

The attorney general must submit aggregate forfeiture reports to the state Legislature; Up to 90% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement divided in various ways

New Jersey

N.J.S.A. 2C:64-12C:64-6,

2C:64-3

A preponderance of the evidence

None, up to 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

New Mexico

N.M. Stat. Ann. § 31-27-9§ 31-27-4

Criminal conviction required to forfeit property, then the state must prove by clear and convincing evidence the property is subject, by the statute, to forfeiture

Law enforcement must submit annual seizure and forfeiture reports to the Department of Public Safety and the district attorney's office, which must aggregate the reports; No forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement, 100% goes to general fund

New York

N.Y. C.P.L.R. §§1349(4), 1311N.Y. Exec. § 837-a(6)

Most forfeiture actions must be based on a criminal conviction; Drug crimes need only establish by clear and convincing evidence and then connect property to that crime by a preponderance of the evidence in order to forfeit it

Police must make annual forfeiture reports to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, which must provide aggregate annual reports to the Legislature; 75% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

North Carolina

N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 75D-590-112

Forfeiture requires criminal conviction; Civil forfeiture is available in racketeering cases or federal Equitable Sharing program (reasonable ground for forfeiture)

None, all forfeiture proceeds must go to public schools

North Dakota

N.D. Cent. Code § 19-03.1-36.6,

§ 19-03.1-36.2

Clear and convincing evidence after conviction

None, law enforcement may keep up to 100%

Ohio

Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2981.03(G)2981.11(B)2981.13(C)(3)2981.05

Clear and convincing in civil asset forfeiture proceedings

Agencies must maintain an inventory of seized property; Up to 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement, in a juvenile case, 10% to community addiction services providers

Oklahoma

Okla. Stat. tit. 63, § 2-503(G)

A preponderance of the evidence

Agencies must maintain an inventory of seized and forfeited property; Up to 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Oregon

Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 131A.450131A.455(5), 

131A.365131A.460131A.255

Criminal conviction required for all civil forfeitures; Preponderance of the evidence for personal property, clear and convincing evidence for real property

Agencies must report forfeiture information to the forfeiture counsel and report every seizure and disposition to the Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory Committee; Proceeds divided among the Illegal Drug Cleanup Fund, the Asset Forfeiture Oversight Account, the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission Account, the Early Learning Division Fund, and the remainder to law enforcement

Pennsylvania

42 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 5801-5808

Probable cause that property is subject to forfeiture, but property owner may rebut it by a preponderance of the evidence; The government must then show by clear and convincing evidence the owner unlawfully used or possessed the property

Counties must submit annual forfeiture reports to the Office of the Attorney General, which must aggregate the reports and provide them to the Legislature; 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Rhode Island

R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 7-15-4.1(e), 21-28-5.04(d)

Probable cause; Owner may rebut by preponderance of the evidence

Agencies must provide annual forfeiture reports to the state treasurer, and the treasurer and attorney general must submit aggregate annual forfeiture reports to the state Legislature; No law enforcement agency may keep more than $50,000 per year, with different limitations based on the city or town's population; 10% of proceeds to substance abuse treatment programs, the remainder to law enforcement

South Carolina

S.C. Code Ann. §44-53-520–53044-53-586

Probable cause to seize property; Owner may rebut by a preponderance of the evidence

Agencies must maintain an inventory of seized property and submit those inventories to the appropriate prosecution agency; 95% goes to law enforcement agencies

South Dakota

S.D. Codified Laws §§ 23A-49-123A-49-1334-20B-7023A-49-20 to 23A-49-25

A preponderance of the evidence

Law enforcement agencies must submit reports to the Attorney General who must maintain a publicly accessible database concerning asset forfeiture information; 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Tennessee

Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-33-21140-33-210

A preponderance of the evidence

None, law enforcement may keep up to 100% of forfeiture proceeds, although some proceeds from forfeited vehicles go to the Department of Mental Health and substance abuse services

Texas

Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 59.05 and 59.06

A preponderance of the evidence

The Office of the Attorney General must create annual aggregate forfeiture reports from reports submitted by law enforcement; Up to 70% goes to law enforcement

Utah

Utah Code Ann. §§ 24-4-11824-4-104

Clear and convincing evidence

Law enforcement must maintain an inventory of seized property, the State Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice creates an annual report of forfeiture proceeds; 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Vermont

Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 18, §§ 424142474248

Clear and convincing evidence and a criminal conviction

Law enforcement must submit reports of drug-related forfeitures to the state treasurer; 45% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Virginia

Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-386.4386.10

Prosecutor must show by clear and convincing evidence that asset meets requirements of forfeiture statute; Complainant must show by a preponderance of the evidence that property is exempt from forfeiture

Agencies must report seizures and forfeitures to the Department of Criminal Justice Services; 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

Washington

Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 69.50.505

A preponderance of the evidence

Seizing agencies must file quarterly reports of forfeited property with the state treasurer; 90% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

West Virginia

W. Va. Code § 60A-7-707705

A preponderance of the evidence

Police departments are required to submit annual forfeiture reports to their local budgetary authorities; 100% goes to law enforcement

Wisconsin

Wis. Stat. § 961.555(3)

Clear and convincing evidence

None, no forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement except to recoup expenses

Wyoming

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1049

Clear and convincing evidence

The attorney general must submit an annual report to the joint appropriations interim committee; Up to 100% of forfeiture proceeds can go to law enforcement

Note: State laws are always subject to change, usually through the enactment of new legislation but also through court decisions and other means. Contact an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Purpose of Asset Forfeiture and Possible Reforms

The government's intent for civil forfeiture laws was to target ill-gotten gains. Some states have since expanded that reach to include any felony offense.

The U.S. Department of Justice indicates that asset forfeiture is a tool that “deters, disrupts, and dismantles" criminals by denying them “the instruments and the proceeds of criminal activity." Indeed, it can be a powerful tool to curb illegal activity. Whether it is real estate, bank accounts, or vehicles, there is generally no limitation on the type of property that law enforcement may seize.

Civil asset forfeiture is highly controversial. Critics have referred to civil asset forfeiture as “policing for profit." They also note that civil asset forfeiture deprives people of due process.

Asset forfeiture reform has gained momentum. Critics argue that a system allowing police to seize and forfeit property from a property owner who is not charged with a crime may violate citizens' constitutional protections.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to due process. Due process requires the government to provide notice before it takes an individual's property. It also provides that the individual has a right to a hearing before the government takes their property. Critics argue that because the process doesn't require a judicial hearing to determine whether the property seized is genuinely connected to criminal activity, this violates property owners' right to due process.

Civil asset forfeiture is a lawsuit filed by the government against a piece of property. The property owner must essentially file a third-party claim in the case. The claimant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was not connected to criminal activity. Critics argue that this violates the claimant's right to the presumption of innocence. Further, the government may seize property from an innocent owner if a third party illegally uses the property. But the success of a forfeiture proceeding concerning property owned by an "innocent owner" is often based on whether the owner had knowledge of criminal activity involving the property.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from excessive fines. The Fourteenth Amendment applies the Eighth Amendment to the states. The Supreme Court has held that the Excessive Fines Clause requires that the amount of forfeiture must “bear some relationship to the gravity of the offense that it is designed to punish." For this reason, the amount forfeited must be proportionate to the offense's severity.

Has the State Seized Your Assets? Talk to an Attorney

You'll want a strong legal advocate if the government attempts to take your property. The laws in this area are tricky and ever-changing, depending on the political climate and the state in which you live. Learn more about the asset forfeiture laws of your state and how they impact your asset forfeiture case from a criminal defense attorney in your area.

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