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Rauner signs civil asset forfeiture reform bill

Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017

* 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.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

14 Comments
  1. - DuPage Saint - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 9:41 am:

    Absolutely great. Was a tremendous abuse


  2. - Anonish - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 9:46 am:

    So is the IPI for the bill or against it?


  3. - Honeybear - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 9:49 am:

    So this past winter we had some remodeling done. The company we hired was run by a part time police chief of a small town. I was horrified when he told me point blank that most of the money for his department comes from civil asset forfeiture. “The new squad cars, SUVs, tactical gear, weapons all come from seizures.” He was even tallying up what he had recently seized.

    It’s just plain wrong
    Very happy about this.


  4. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 9:52 am:

    Illinois doesn’t appear to be broken here. Problems can be addressed and progress can be made when people across the political spectrum face facts honestly and in good faith.


  5. - Curl of the Burl - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 10:01 am:

    This is awesome. It was awesome seeing all sorts of different politicos come together for this legislation.


  6. - Streator Curmudgeon - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 10:28 am:

    Here in LaSalle County, we have an ongoing investigation into the asset seizures made by the now-defunct SAFE: State’s Attorney’s Felony Enforcement unit, which patrolled I-80. A court ruled the unit unconstitutional several months ago.

    The former State’s Attorney, Brian Towne, who started the unit, has been indicted on 17 counts. This legislation could have prevented much of that with clear guidelines.

    The current State’s Attorney, who defeated Towne last November, is trying to recover cash and other assets seized by the unit.

    This law is long overdue.


  7. - Anotheretiree - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 10:31 am:

    Ruins my day to find I’m un agreement with Rauner and the IPI. How did they slip up and do the right thing here ? And the ACLU and IPI on the same side as a biblical sign feel to it…


  8. - NoGifts - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 10:45 am:

    I give Rauner credit for doing the right thing. The previous standards made a mockery of rule of law and constitutional protections.


  9. - Ghost - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 11:05 am:

    But Sessions and the feds are providing fed loopholes around these restrictions. I guess its part of the States rights GOP agenda to remove States rights to protect from civil forfeiture….


  10. - Just Observing - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 11:42 am:

    Civil forfeiture in this country has become nothing less than a criminal government enterprise.


  11. - Payback - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 11:43 am:

    After a quick scan of this huge over 200 page act, I gleaned that the serfs can now carry the huge sum of $100 cash without your money being seized by the Sheriff of Nottingham:

    “With regard to possession of cannabis offenses only, a sum of currency with a value of less than $500 shall not be subject to forfeiture under this Act. For all other offenses under this Act, a sum of currency with a value of less than
    $100 shall not be subject to forfeiture under this Act. In seizures of currency in excess of these amounts, this Section shall not create an exemption for these amounts.”

    Wow, let’s all bow down to the police unions that
    did not oppose this “reform” and consented to allow the little people to keep some of their money without being tried and convicted of an offense first. Thanks a lot for letting us breath oxygen for free too!

    This act makes seizures “less bad.” Any act that allows police and prosecutors to seize property without trial and conviction is still tyranny, period. Mostly the 200 plus pages show that asset forfeiture is a continual self-funding process for the MEG units and other police bureaucracies.


  12. - anon2 - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 11:59 am:

    Better late than never. Not soon enough to help the Minnesota driver who was pulled over in April on I-90 for allegedly going 61 in a 55 mph zone. The trooper detained him, even though his license and insurance were in order, and found $340,000 in cash, which was confiscated. The driver wasn’t charged. He says he was on his way to a car auction and to sign a concert act.


  13. - illini97 - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 12:16 pm:

    Certainly a reform that was overdue.

    Congrats and thanks to all legislators involved and the Governor. Good news for once.


  14. - Freezeup - Wednesday, Sep 20, 17 @ 1:45 pm:

    Just read the entire act.

    Imho it codified what legitimate law enforcement was already doing.


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