The state of New York has received a middling grade for its civil forfeiture laws from a Virginia-based public interest law firm.
In the third edition of its “Policing for Profit” report, the Institute for Justice (IJ) has given New York a “C” grade for its asset forfeiture laws, praising the state for a recent set of reforms that strengthened transparency requirements, while calling for more change to the state’s forfeiture laws.
According to the report, New York law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $18.2 billion under state law between 2000 and 2018. The state also generated an additional $1.4 billion from 2000 to 2019 via federal equitable sharing, which is a U.S. Department of Justice program that allows state law enforcement agencies to partner with the federal government to seize and forfeit property regardless of state law.
The IJ report said New York has a “somewhat higher bar to forfeit” than other states because prosecutors are required to provide evidence that seized property is connected to a crime. New York also has better protections for innocent property owners and requires the government to prove third-party owners were aware of a crime connected to their property before it makes a seizure.
New York’s budget for fiscal year 2020 strengthened transparency and accountability requirements for civil asset forfeiture in the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration highlighted a number of reforms in the budget, including a policy change to require “all seized assets to be held in an independently overseen and administered account from which detailed records regarding each disbursement must be maintained.” Law enforcement agencies are also prohibited from “freezing a person’s cash during a prosecution unless a connection between that money and the alleged illicit conduct can be shown.”
Despite these reforms, the IJ report still criticized some aspects of New York’s civil forfeiture laws, such as its large profit incentive which gives 60 percent of forfeiture proceeds to law enforcement. The report recommends New York completely end civil forfeiture, direct all proceeds of seizures to a non-law enforcement fund, close the federal equitable sharing loophole, and further strengthen transparency and accountability requirements.
New York isn’t the only state to receive a poor grade in the report; in broad terms, IJ is encouraging nearly all states to pass greater reforms. Based on publicly available data, the IJ report estimates that law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have forfeited at least $68.8 billion in personal assets since 2000. IJ’s data shows that the typical individual cash forfeiture is often small, indicating that civil forfeiture does not target drug kingpins or fraudsters as proponents of the practice like to claim.
If you are a victim of civil forfeiture and your cash or property has been seized without due process, then you should immediately consult an experienced civil asset forfeiture attorney. Just because the government took your property does not mean it is entitled to keep it.
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.