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It’s time to change the state’s forfeiture laws

Wednesday, Nov 23, 2016

* 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?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 9:39 am:

    The La Salle County state’s attorney was running his own police force and making these types of seizures, and basically letting people go on their way as long as they didn’t contest it. He lost re-election this time around, partially because of the spotlight that had been cast on these type of activities.

  2. - Grand Avenue - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 9:39 am:

    As always, blame Madigan - if Rauner tells the GOP GA members to vote for it along with safe-seat Democrats, DPI will send out horribly-designed mailers attacking them for going easy on drug dealers

  3. - Anon. - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 9:48 am:

    These forfeiture laws shun fundamental due process rights. Great to see bipartisan opposition emerging.

  4. - ILefty - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 9:56 am:

    While there are problems with the way SOME seizures take place, these recommendations have some serious flaws as it see it. First, many of the cash seizures that occur are the result of drug mules who are traveling across the country to purchase drugs. They are stopped by the police and nearly always disavow ownership of the money. They are given a receipt for the seizure and often times sent on their way vs. being arrested. It is difficult to prove the exact crime, but it is evident what the cash is being used for (who else carries around shrink wrapped cash hidden in secret compartments). Policies like this would severely hamper law enforcement efforts to keep some truly awful drugs off our streets.

    Also, drug interdiction is a tough, often expensive undertaking, but an absolutely essential one. Sweeping these funds to the GR fund is a sure fire way to kill the efforts - as we all know the GA can think of plenty of other places they would rather spend the money.

  5. - simple mind - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 9:56 am:

    This seems more than reasonable. Why could not all parties wrap their arms around this? I hope law enforcement is not corrupt in this regard.

  6. - Rufus - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 9:59 am:

    Absolutely, Police have “stolen” millions of dollars from people who have committed very petty crimes. It is a huge abuse of power.

  7. - Ahoy! - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:00 am:

    It makes sense, although I’m not sure I see any reason for the government to seize someone’s property unless it is for payment of taxes or fines and only if the taking is equal to what is owed.

    To me this is government overreach and we should probably just get rid of it all together.

  8. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:01 am:

    Lack of action on this issue, on the state and federal levels, has been incredibly frustrating and perplexing.

    There appears to be nearly unanimous agreement across the political spectrum that these laws — intended to target Mafia and cartel types — have been horribly abused by federal, state and local law enforcement to tune up regular citizens to raise slush funds for their agencies.

    In Illinois, you have the ACLU and IPI on the same side of the issue. Yet nothing has been done. What gives? What’s the holdup? Can local governments really put a brick on abolishing this thoroughly un-American practice?

  9. - Last Bull Moose - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:06 am:

    I have trouble believing the current practices are Constitutional. These changes make sense.

  10. - sulla - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:16 am:


    “Also, drug interdiction is a tough, often expensive undertaking, but an absolutely essential one.”

    Disagree completely - the War on Drugs is a colossal failure and a horrendous waste of resources.

    “It is difficult to prove the exact crime, but it is evident what the cash is being used for (who else carries around shrink wrapped cash hidden in secret compartments).”

    If law enforcement can’t prove that a crime has taken place, then why should they be allowed to enforce punishment via seizure? Isn’t that a complete repudiation of “innocent until proven guilty”? Are we a nation of laws or not?

  11. - Libertas - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:22 am:

    Excerpt from Amendment V to US Constitution

    “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

    I have always doubted the constitutionality of these seizures, but the majority of individuals subject to these constitutional violations do not have the resources to fight the ensuing battle in court. I am absolutely in favor of changing the states law to better match our national constitution!

  12. - NoGifts - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:26 am:

    “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 … ” THIS REMOVES AND INCENTIVE?? LOL.

  13. - Fixer - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:26 am:

    I’m not the General Revenue fund is where the money should go. Other than that, a lot of this is sensible. The fact that IPI and the ACLU agree on something is a bit of a shock, though.

  14. - DuPage Don - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:31 am:

    PLEASE educate yourself before commenting. As stated in some previous comments, there needs to be some tweeking, especially when it comes to seizing vehicles for DUI offense. However, the civil and criminal law associated with forfeiture are offer due process. Having been involved in law enforcement for more than 35 years, and more than 10 years in drug enforcement, I personally have not seen ONE instance of abuse. Yes, the La Salle County issue is an example of a program that needs to be looked at, but that is the extreme. The ACLU is not the entity to be looking to for “model policy” when it comes to this issue. Please do the research.

  15. - AC - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:37 am:

    I’ve bought and sold items such as riding lawn equipment, vehicles, and antique furniture. Often, these are transactions conducted with cash. The vehicles are a little less of a worry, being titled, but even then I wouldn’t want to have to spend my time or justify to local law enforcement where my cash came from. It’s a sad day in America when your biggest worry when you’re conducting legitimate transactions is civil forfeiture. Folks who think my concerns are unfounded aren’t aware of how some places have seized cash even when people have the correct documentation with them. They probably thought a printout of their successful eBay bid showing the balance they owed along with the sellers name, or their bill of sale would save them. Many folks choose to settle rather than fight the seizure as well.

    The recommended approach seems reasonable. Another part of the solution would be to solve check clearing issues, because many people, myself included, are reluctant to take checks because there’s no real way to verify a check. Fraudsters issue checks that initially clear and later bounce. If cash wasn’t the only sure way to get paid, there’d be less of a need to carry it. Yes, I’m aware that people who are extremely poor are locked out of the banking system, so this couldn’t be the only solution.

  16. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:39 am:

    ===The ACLU is not the entity to be looking to for “model policy”===

    Oh, please. George HW Bush called. He wants his 1988 argument back.

  17. - Streator Curmudgeon - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:57 am:

    Six Degrees brought up the most blatant abuse of forfeiture.

    The LaSalle County State’s Attorney created his own “police unit” which repeatedly stopped drivers on I-80 and seized cash from them on the assumption that it was drug money. Most of the time no charges were filed.

    Since when is it illegal in the U.S. to carry large amounts of cash on your person or in your car? As Six Degrees pointed out, that state’s attorney was defeated in his re-election bid by a challenger who has only been a lawyer two years.

    These recommendations sound reasonable to me, too.

  18. - charles in charge - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 10:59 am:

    **PLEASE educate yourself before commenting. As stated in some previous comments, there needs to be some tweeking, especially when it comes to seizing vehicles for DUI offense. However, the civil and criminal law associated with forfeiture are offer due process. Having been involved in law enforcement for more than 35 years, and more than 10 years in drug enforcement, I personally have not seen ONE instance of abuse.**

    Then perhaps YOU need to educate yourself.

  19. - downstate commissioner - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 11:02 am:

    Our small town has taken advantage of this several times; I never realized that a conviction did not have to take place. I would hope that something would be done, even if it is only to add a conviction requirement….

  20. - illini97 - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 11:08 am:

    I’m all for reining these practices in. When you have police departments teaching each other how best to use these processes to increase their budget, it’s an area just asking for abuse.

    In the Metro East, this has become a significant concern.

  21. - Freezeup - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 11:16 am:

    AC, I’m curious if you have first hand knowledge of these types of incidents or if you are reading about it. The accounts I read about incidents I have been involved in are laughably one sided and lacking in facts.

    When this issue comes up every few months I usually post and try to provide some factual perspective from someone who has first hand knowledge of how this process works. I’m not going to bother. Everyone’s mind is made up and there is no changing it.

    I’m not going to say there aren’t mistakes made. There are abuses. But saying that cops are systematically stealing from the citizens is just way out in left field from my personal, first hand experiences.

    I will add that the police are One component in a process that also involves a States Attorney and a Judge. I’m not counting the possibility of private attorneys and possibly appellate court justices.

  22. - Blue dog dem - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 11:17 am:


  23. - justacitizen - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 11:17 am:

    The state has state and federal forfeiture funds that only receive a few million dollars a year currently. However, it does have an “escheat” fund that received $17 million last year from state uncashed checks. The term escheat is derived from property reverting to the King of England meaning “we cheat you”.

  24. - crazybleedingheart - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 11:18 am:

    People opposing:
    1) Boss Hogg
    2) There is no #2

  25. - Steve - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 11:18 am:

    Your property shouldn’t be allowed to be seized unless you have been convicted of a crime. Period. What is so difficult about following the 4th and 5th amendments to the U.S. Constitution? We encourage everyone to read the Institute For Justice’s work on the subject down below.

  26. - Rabid - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 11:24 am:

    How do you know what was taken without an audit?

  27. - AC - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 11:45 am:

    Freezeup - I only know what I read, this could’ve easily been me:

  28. - walker - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 11:52 am:

    Grand Avenue: “”As always, blame Madigan,”"

    You’re joking, right.

    It is a tragedy how both parties love to put out “soft on crime” attack ads, every time a legislator tries to fix the messes we’ve created in the “war on drugs.” Times are changing, among both parties in the legislature, and the Governor is moving along with needed reforms. Hopefully the public attitudes will shift enough that such campaign attacks don’t have the same impact.

  29. - Judgment Day - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 12:00 pm:

    “Your property shouldn’t be allowed to be seized unless you have been convicted of a crime.”

    Word. That’s about as simple of an explanation of why civil forfeiture as it currently exists needs to be changed.

  30. - Illinoisan - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 12:33 pm:

    Civil asset forfeiture is a bi-partisan issue and I still can’t fathom why it hasn’t been addressed. Mostly, I’m dissapointed that conservatives, so interested in property rights, are so cavalier about handing this authority to government without question.

  31. - Freezeup - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 1:38 pm:

    AC thanks for the example. For whatever it’s worth, WITH THE FACTS GIVEN, I would not have seized that currency and no states attorney would file that under the two main ways currency can be seized under Illinois law. Those two ways are either showing it is “drug proceeds” or “money laundering”. There seem to be no facts supporting forfeiture.

  32. - frisbee - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 1:47 pm:

    ===Also, drug interdiction is a tough, often expensive undertaking, but an absolutely essential one.===

    Solution: Legalize drugs, tax and regulate their production and distribution. Have law enforcement focus on crimes with an obvious victim instead of protecting people from themselves.

    I am glad to see this issue getting more attention finally. Springfield Police’s DIRT team is self funded by asset seizures according to an SJR article i read a few years ago.

    Having large amounts of cash in an era where banks are too big to fail seems pretty logical to me yet LEOs and some commenters on here seem to equate that to criminal activity.

  33. - blogman - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 1:49 pm:

    The seizure of money from “drug mules” is not the problem. It is the guy or girl charged with possession or DUI that has there money or vehicle taken. The towing and storage fees pile up and even when they get an order for the release of the car, they owe a great deal to get it back. Simply not fair at all. Then, the States Attorney will try to negotiate to get something even when they are wrong. They play legal procedural games with the defendant’s who are not usually represented by a lawyer because forfeiture is civil and not criminal in nature. It is an abuse of power that needs much greater scrutiny in all Counties in Illinois.

  34. - charles in charge - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 1:57 pm:

    **no states attorney would file**

    Are you sure? Judging by the cases that make it into court in Cook County, the State’s Attorney’s office isn’t exercising much of a ‘gatekeeper’ role at all.

    **the two main ways currency can be seized under Illinois law. Those two ways are either showing it is “drug proceeds” or “money laundering”**

    You forgot “instrumentalities” of a crime (e.g., if you’re pulled over in possession of a user quantity of drugs, they can take your car because it was ‘used’ in the commission of the crime of possession of a controlled substance).

  35. - charles in charge - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 2:01 pm:

    Currency “intended to be furnished” to buy drugs can also be forfeited.

  36. - Freezeup - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 4:03 pm:

    Charles- Good point. There is plenty broken in The County of Cook, this probably is too.

    Is Instrumentalities the same thing as “Article 36″ that is used for the felony D.U.I’s and D.W.L.R. etc?

    In concept, removing repeat felony drivers from their vehicles to prevent them from driving sounds ok. In practice, not so much. This one should be saved for the most repeating sorts of repeat offenders.

    Just curious- everyone reading this knows that felony D.U.I. And felony Driving Suspended/Revoked lands people in prison in Illinois on a regular basis, right? Not jail, years in prison…. More serious offense than some realize….

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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