In the third edition of its “Policing for Profit” report, the Institute for Justice takes a look at every state’s civil asset forfeiture laws and the amount of forfeiture proceeds collected since 2000, based on publicly available information.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that allows law enforcement agencies to seize property they suspect is linked to criminal activity, sometimes even without charging the property owner with a crime. It is different from criminal forfeiture, which requires prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an owner is guilty of a crime and that the property is connected to the case.
Forfeiture laws are meant to financially hamstring criminal enterprises by giving law enforcement an easy way to seize illicit profits. In many states, the forfeited proceeds are absorbed into law enforcement budgets, which critics argue creates a profit incentive for police to conduct unnecessary seizures at the cost of Americans’ constitutional rights.
Out of all the 50 states, New Mexico is the only one to receive an ‘A’ grade in the report. IJ praised the state for having the “highest bar to forfeit” because it has completely abolished civil forfeiture and replaced it with criminal forfeiture. It lauded the state for having stronger protections for individuals that require the government to prove with clear and convincing evidence a third-party owner knew about the criminal use of their property before it can be forfeited. New Mexico also doesn’t have a profit incentive because all forfeiture proceeds go to a general fund instead of a law enforcement slush fund.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez signed the landmark legislation that ended civil forfeiture in the state on April 9, 2015. The bill replaced the practice with criminal forfeiture, which by default requires prosecutors to prove in court that cash or property is connected to a crime. The state also prohibits state law enforcement from bypassing the changes via collaboration with the federal government. In 2019, lawmakers introduced further reforms with the passage of House Bill 312, which formally extended the removal of civil forfeiture to cover municipalities, strengthened transparency requirements, and added new procedural protections.
The changes New Mexico implemented five years ago have so far been a resounding success. State and local law enforcement had warned of dire consequences if the bill passed, but those predictions have not come true. IJ analyzed monthly crime and arrest data in New Mexico before and after the reform took effect. The organization “detected no significant increase in crime rates that could be attributed to the reforms, indicating the reforms had no negative effect on public safety—and strongly suggesting civil forfeiture is not an essential crime-fighting tool,” according to the report.
New Mexico is unfortunately an outlier with its civil forfeiture reform. Residents of several other states are still in danger of having their property seized on the mere suspicion that it is connected to criminal activity. If you are not a New Mexico resident and you’ve had your lawful property seized by law enforcement, then you should immediately consult a civil asset forfeiture attorney. A capable lawyer can fight the seizure and help you get your cash or property back.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your property been seized by police or federal agents? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.