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Civil Forfeiture Laws Remain Controversial in Minnesota

Minnesota law allows law enforcement agencies to seize property in a wide range of alleged criminal investigations. That may seem obvious, as property is often evidence that prosecutors intend to use to pursue a conviction. However, there is another side to some seizures. Each year, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors seize cars, cash, computer equipment and other assets under Minnesota asset forfeiture laws.

These procedures have been controversial, and lawmakers have taken several stabs at reforming the state's civil asset forfeiture statutes since 2010. The largest friction point is that the proceeds from any civil asset forfeiture procedure are split between the state government and local agencies. Local police and the county attorney's office, each get a share of the proceeds. However, civil forfeitures have remained fairly steady since 2010.

Are Civil Forfeitures Simply a Way to Pad an Agency's Budget or a Benefit to the Community?

When large cash sums that are allegedly tied to a drug bust, or a vehicle is allegedly used in a range of crimes, the proceeds can be large. Opponents of forfeiture laws say that the potential amount of money involved creates an incentive for police to pursue the forfeitures. Police and other proponents of forfeiture say that criminals should not profit from their offenses and seizing assets is a positive way to funnel money into the community.

Rochester Police rank sixth in the state for forfeitures. Statewide, the vast majority of assets are seized related to drug crimes or repeat DWI offenses. Overall, there are roughly 6,000 forfeitures statewide each year, netting millions in proceeds for authorities. In 2016, net proceeds totaled $7.4 million, according to Minn Post.

Losing a vehicle to forfeiture can be devastating for any individual, as well as for entire families where there is only one vehicle in the household. Challenging a forfeiture is complex, and as we discussed on this blog in September, prosecutors fight hard to keep control and ownership of property seized for forfeiture. The timeline to challenge a forfeiture begins on the date of the seizure. It is important to act quickly in seeking legal advice from a strong criminal defense lawyer who has experience with Minnesota forfeiture laws.

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