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State of Wisconsin’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws Under Fire

Law enforcement agencies nationwide rake in a considerable amount of money and property every year under civil forfeiture laws, depending on each state’s laws. Such laws are widely criticized, however, and are often targets of criticism for citizens and politicians alike. Police in Wisconsin have come under criticism recently for some potentially questionable civil asset forfeiture practices.

Proponents of civil asset forfeiture often argue that the benefits outweigh the potential for abuse. The most often-promoted benefit to civil asset forfeiture laws is that it is a tool for fighting organized crime, but critics say that a majority of the time, it is not used for that purpose.

Instead, the stories that hit the headlines most often are examples of gross injustices or of misuse of funds acquired from civil asset forfeiture cases, such as a recent story from the MacIver Institute in Wisconsin.

According to a report released earlier this week, the Wisconsin State Patrol has hauled in over $50,000 in non-federal civil asset forfeitures since January 2014. Although that is not a staggeringly high amount compared to other state entities across the country, there is a catch – the State Patrol has allegedly donated very little of the $52,961.62 of the forfeiture proceeds to the state’s Common School Fund, which is required under the State of Wisconsin’s constitution.

The executive secretary of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands Jonathan Barry said that, “We have searched back ten years in both WisMart and Star (records archives) and have no record of ever having received any funds from either the DOT (Department of Transportation) or the State Patrol under the Civil Asset Forfeiture line during that time period.” Under Wisconsin’s civil asset forfeiture statutes, law enforcement agencies must distribute at least half of proceeds obtained through forfeitures to the school fund. However, if the property forfeited is money, “all the money shall be deposited in the school fund.”

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said that it distributed $5,310 to the School Fund, representing only 10% of the funds seized, leading groups such as those at the MacIver Institute to criticize the State Patrol, alleging that they have distributed far less seized proceeds than is expected under state law.

It’s what other critics describe as “Policing for Profit.” According to the Institute for Justice, “Every year, police and prosecutors across the United States take hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, cars, homes and other property – regardless of the owners’ guilt or innocence.”

A reform bill introduced by two Republican congressmen from Wisconsin is awaiting scheduling in the Wisconsin legislature.

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.


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