Civil forfeiture is a controversial issue.
In Minnesota, when law enforcement forfeits personal property seized during a criminal investigation, 70% of the proceeds go back to the law enforcement agency that forfeited the property, 20% goes to the office of the prosecuting attorney that handled the criminal case, and the remaining 10% goes to the State's general fund. This allocation creates a perverse incentive for law enforcement to forfeit property to "pad the coffers."
This is not the only controversial aspect of civil forfeiture. In addition to being a conflict of interest, civil forfeiture has the impact of imposing significant additional penalties beyond the sentence for criminal behavior. This latter issue--whether civil forfeiture violates the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution--is currently before the United States Supreme Court. In that case, law enforcement forfeited a man's vehicle--worth $42,000 and purchased independent of criminal activity--simply because he sold $225 of heroin to undercover police officers.
Click this here to read a Washington Post article about the case before the Supreme Court.
We've also previously blogged about the controversy surrounding civil forfeiture in Minnesota. Click here to learn more about the controversy