Civil asset forfeiture is a popular topic for lawmakers right now. In Minnesota, Shoreview’s Democratic Rep. Kelly Moller increased the minimum threshold of money seized to $1,500 unless the money is unquestionably connected with illegal drugs. The bill also puts aside storage charges for vehicles and other filing charges so that people can reclaim their assets without paying high fees.
The recommended modifications to Minnesota’s property forfeiture law obtained preliminary endorsement from the state House committee. Proponents of the law say it includes prudent guidelines that will benefit low-income citizens.
Under Minnesota law, property can be subject to forfeiture if it is:
- personal property used or intended for use to commit or facilitate the commission of a designated offense;
- real or personal property representing the proceeds of a designated offense;
- property associated with a designated offense.
The property forfeiture law has been in effect in Minnesota since 1971 and was envisioned as a way to disband crime syndicates and control the commission of criminal acts. In recent years, many justice reform crusaders have condemned civil asset forfeiture as a way for law enforcement agencies to acquire extra funding.
Presently, reform advocates contend that existing regulations place property owners at a disadvantage. Many people cannot pay for the proceedings and shoulder the charges associated with fighting to reclaim their assets. The bill is among the few proposals navigating through the Democratic-controlled Minnesota House aiming to address racial inequalities and attempting to respond to economic disparities.
According to Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Nora Sandstad, the new legislation aims to achieve a balance between protections for citizens and justice for crimes. She emphasized that as a part of this balance, the new legislation will restrict vehicle forfeiture to drug dealers, excluding drug addicts and users.
Civil asset forfeiture adds up in a big way. In 2019, seizures of amounts lower than $1,500 amounted to $1.5 million, showing an average of just $473 for each seizure. According to State Auditor Julie Blaha, that amount accounts to just 0.4% of local police and sheriff’s funds. Even so, such amounts could be disastrous to a low-salaried person who lost the few hundred dollars which they badly need, the State Auditor further explained.
While the recommended modifications obtained cross-party support, there are still differing points of view among lawmakers on the subject. Rep. Kristin Robbins articulated her plans to curb civil forfeiture even further. The Representative from Maple Grove said that while she is supporting the changes, she believes that there is more to be done, as under the new law people’s property could continue to be taken even in absence of a conviction.
Other legislators such as Rep. Tina Liebling expressed their apprehensions that there remains a profit incentive for enforcers and prosecutors who share the earnings from civil forfeiture. And the DFL-Rochester Representative is of the opinion that as long as police profit from civil asset forfeiture, it will continue to challenge the trustworthiness of law enforcers.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
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Source: 2.16.21 Minnesota CAF Laws