On paper, Missouri’s civil asset forfeiture laws are better than most. State law requires all proceeds from property and cash seizures be used to fund public schools in the state. However, law enforcement is using a loophole to keep the vast majority of the proceeds for themselves.
Since 2015, Missouri law enforcement seized property and cash valued at $19 million. Of that total, less than 2 percent—only $340,000—found its way to schools.
In 2001, Missouri reformed its Civil Asset Forfeiture Act (CAFA) in order to stop what’s known as “policing for profit.” This happens where police are able to retain proceeds from civil asset forfeiture, something that occurs in many states. Law enforcement can legally seize property in most states if it is suspected of involvement in a crime; the property owner does not need to have been involved in the crime and does not need to be charged with any crime.
In many cases, law enforcement agencies themselves are underfunded. Police departments are therefore incentivized to seize property and cash to fund their own operations.
To reduce then number of egregious seizures, the reformed CAFA required a criminal conviction before property was taken. Additionally, CAFA stated that all funds from asset forfeiture be deposited “into the public education fund as required by the Missouri Constitution.”
Instead of following CAFA, local law enforcement agencies have taken advantage of what is known as Equitable Sharing. Under this program, local law enforcement partners with the federal government to litigate civil asset forfeiture cases. In this way, Missouri law enforcement can avoid the restrictions put on them by the state. No criminal conviction is necessary, making the cases easier to prosecute; eighty percent of the proceeds go directly to state and local law enforcement coffers. The remaining 20 percent goes to the federal government.
At the same time law enforcement spends this money on itself, public schools in Missouri suffer. Attorney for the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA) Susan Goldammer said, “We still have school districts that don’t have air conditioning or have concerns about asbestos. … We’ve got many, many school buildings in the state that are way more than 100 years old.”
As Chelsea Voronoff of the ACLU explains, “The irony of the matter is that civil asset forfeiture laws disproportionately impact hard-working, low-income people of color—many of whom might actually have benefited from the funds being transferred to their schools.”
Public schools are unable to afford computers and equipment. More worryingly, in this time of rising school shootings, schools are unable to purchase surveillance equipment. If even some of the civil forfeiture money found its way into the education fund, it could “make a huge difference, particularly in my smaller school districts,” says Goldammer.
State Representative Shamed Dogan (R-St. Louis) has proposed a bill where only cases involving more than $50,000 can be eligible for the Equitable Sharing Program. Dogan says 80 percent of the proceeds from civil asset forfeiture in Missouri come from cases above this limit, meaning a majority of proceeds would still go to law enforcement.
The MSBA and Kansas City Police Department have yet to signal their support for the bill. These two organizations say their goal is to see that both law enforcement agencies and public schools receive adequate funding.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.