* Aside from the obvious about all the forfeitures here, the worst part of this story is that there is no statewide reporting requirement…
A new study says Illinois law enforcement is seizing hundreds of millions of dollars of property belonging to citizens suspected, but not necessarily convicted, of a crime.
A joint study by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the Illinois Policy Institute shows law enforcement agencies have seized $319 million from citizens from 2005 to 2015. In Illinois, people don’t need to be convicted of a crime to have their property seized, a practice typically known as civil asset forfeiture.
ACLU criminal justice policy attorney Ben Ruddell says the number is likely much higher since reporting forfeiture statistics is not required by Illinois law. “That $319 million is a conservative figure that we know doesn’t cover the full picture here,” he said. Typically, seized property goes back to the law enforcement agency that seizes it. Ruddell adds that this creates an incentive for law enforcement to seize more property to boost their budgets.
The study states that automobiles are the most common type of seizure. “Your life can fall apart during that period of time without that transportation,” Ruddell said. “You can lose your job. There is a whole cascade of consequences that can transpire from that.”
Ruddell said the law needs to be changed to remove the monetary incentive to seizing property by, for instance, diverting the proceeds to a state revenue fund. Also, he said the state needs to strengthen the owners right to retrieve their property. “The burden of proof needs to be where it belongs — with the government to prove that there was a crime before they can take it away.” […]
The Rock Island Police Department led the state with 39 forfeitures per 10,000 residents, followed by the Decatur Police Department with 23.6.
* The study (click here) included three policy recommendations…
1) Provide fair legal standards and procedures in forfeiture cases: Illinois forfeiture laws should require a criminal conviction before property can be forfeited to the government. The burden of proof in a forfeiture action should rest squarely upon the government and should be raised to require clear and convincing evidence. The practice of “nonjudicial” forfeiture, where property may be forfeited without a judge’s consideration of the merits of the case, should be eliminated. The law should require that civil forfeiture proceedings be instituted against the property owner rather than against the property itself, and all known owners of seized property should be named in the complaint and served with process. Finally, lawmakers should eliminate the requirement for the owner to post a cash bond for the right to challenge a forfeiture in court.
2) Remove incentives to engage in “policing for profit”: Any property gained by the government through forfeiture should be auctioned and the proceeds deposited directly into the general revenue fund and appropriated by the General Assembly rather than being awarded directly to police and prosecutors’ offices. Illinois law enforcement agencies should be restricted from participating in federal equitable sharing programs so they cannot circumvent reforms to state forfeiture law and procedures.
3) Increase transparency about how forfeiture funds are acquired and used: Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices should be required to publicly report information about how much property they seize, where and when the seizures took place, the outcome of all forfeiture cases, and how they spend any forfeiture proceeds.
Seems reasonable to me. Your thoughts?