* Tuesday afternoon press release…
Gov. Bruce Rauner today signed HB303, bipartisan legislation aimed at reforming Illinois’ asset forfeiture system. The reforms will increase transparency and shift burdens of proof to protect innocent citizens while maintaining the proper use of asset forfeiture as a tool for law enforcement. Gov. Rauner was joined by Illinois State Police (ISP) officials, ACLU members, legislators, and advocate organizations.
“Illinois residents should be protected from the unfair seizure of their private property,” Gov. Rauner said. “This legislation will enact needed reforms to prevent abuse of the civil asset forfeiture process, while maintaining its importance as a critical tool for law enforcement to make our communities safer.”
When properly applied, asset forfeiture strikes at the economic foundation of criminal activity. The seizure of monetary assets has been utilized as an effective method to disrupt the business activities of drug trafficking organizations and bring down high-level drug distributors.
However, if asset forfeiture is misused, it can have major economic ramifications on Illinoisans who may be innocent of any wrongdoing. The forfeiture of cash, a vehicle, or even a home can also affect their family members and exacerbate financial insecurity.
This important piece of legislation will provide for greater public transparency in Asset Forfeiture proceedings through the collection and publicly accessible reporting of forfeiture data, as well as additional sanction authority for abuse and violations of forfeiture rules by the ISP.
HB 303 also shifts the burden of proving guilt to the government, and increases the burden of proof to mirror that of the federal government in forfeiture cases from probable cause to a preponderance of the evidence, a fair and equitable standard. It also makes a number of other changes such as eliminating restrictive bonding requirements and adjusting the threshold amounts of money subject to forfeiture as well as the levels of cannabis and controlled substance possession that can lead to forfeiture proceedings as a way to thoughtfully limit the use of this system to its intended purposes.
Funds received through the Asset Forfeiture Program support the costs of law enforcement overtime and wire intercepts for major investigations, training, intelligence centers, prevention programs and investigative equipment.
* From Sen. Don Harmon’s statement…
The previous law in Illinois was unclear on whether probable cause was a requirement for police to seize property. Additionally, law enforcement agencies were not obligated to return property seized during an investigation, even if the owner was never charged or convicted of a crime.
The new law increases accountability and transparency among law enforcement officials by doing the following:
• Improves the rights of property owners by placing the burden of proof on the prosecution instead of the property owner and creating an expedited process to have cases adjudicated more quickly.
• Increases the government’s burden of proof from probable cause to preponderance of the evidence.
• Requires the government to do more to ensure property owners receive notice of forfeiture proceedings and understand the steps they must take to argue for the return of their property.
• Eliminates the requirement that property owners must pay a “cost bond” equal to 10 percent of the value of the seized property before their case can be heard by a judge.
• Exempts small sums of cash from forfeiture and provides that mere possession of a miniscule amount of drugs will no longer serve as a legal basis for forfeiture.
• Provides for new data collection regarding property seizures and forfeitures. The information will be reported to the Illinois State Police, and the aggregated data will be posted online.
The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2018.
* ACLU of Illinois…
The ACLU of Illinois and legislative sponsors celebrated the signing of House Bill 303 today. The new law passed with bipartisan support in the Illinois legislature and reforms various asset forfeiture statutes to increase fairness to property owners, increase transparency in the forfeiture process, and remove financial incentives that encourage police and prosecutors to seize citizens’ property.
Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, civil forfeiture does not require a criminal conviction before an individual’s property can be taken by the government. Between 2005 and 2015, asset forfeiture resulted in gains of more than $319 million for Illinois police departments, sheriffs, state’s attorneys, and other law enforcement agencies.
* Illinois Policy Institute…
Supporters of civil asset forfeiture include various law enforcement groups and police unions, including the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Fraternal Order of Police, which claim the practice helps fight crime.
There’s no question that civil asset forfeiture has proved lucrative for federal, state and local law enforcement across the country, and Illinois is no exception. Since 2005, federal authorities have taken $404 million through asset forfeiture in Illinois, while state and local authorities have seized $319 million worth of property.
But when it comes to civil asset forfeiture, there’s evidence that innocent people often get caught in authorities’ crosshairs. A report from the Institute for Justice shows that 87 percent of asset forfeitures by the Department of Justice between 1997 and 2013 were civil, not criminal, meaning that in most cases authorities took property from people who hadn’t even been convicted of a crime.
There’s also evidence Illinoisans are against civil asset forfeiture. A May 2016 poll of Illinois registered voters commissioned by the Illinois Policy Institute showed 89 percent of respondents opposed property seizures without a criminal conviction.