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