The Centennial State reformed its civil forfeiture laws in 2002, but the laws’ C grade demonstrates that the state should do more to protect Coloradans from abuse. The standard of proof the government must meet in order to forfeit property in Colorado is clear and convincing evidence. In cases where an innocent owner objects to a seizure, the government bears the burden of showing that the owner participated in, condoned or knew about the criminal activity associated with the property. Colorado law enforcement keeps 50 percent of all funds generated through civil forfeiture—one of the weaker financial incentives nationally but an incentive to seize nonetheless.
Colorado requires limited reporting on forfeitures, but the requirements are not consistently followed, nor are reports made readily available for public or legislative review. District attorneys must file annual forfeiture reports with the Department of Local Affairs and, unusually, must indicate whether the person from whom the property was seized was charged with or convicted of a crime. Unfortunately, reviewing these reports requires filing a Colorado Open Records Act request. When the Institute for Justice did so, it found that many reports were missing. Further, report data are not reviewed and aggregated, making it impossible to get an at-a-glance sense of the scope of forfeiture in Colorado. Data from agencies that did report, compiled by IJ, indicate forfeitures totaling almost $13 million between 2000 and 2013.
|Standard of proof||
Clear and convincing evidence.
Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 16-13-307(1.7)(c) (public nuisance), 16-13-505(1.7)(c) (contraband), 16-13-509 (currency), 18-17-106(11) (racketeering).
|Innocent owner burden||
Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 16-13-303(5.1)(a), (5.2)(c), 16-13-504(2.1)(a), (2.2)(c).
Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 16-13-311(3)(a)(VII), 16-13-506(1), 18-17-106(2)(d).
NB: This restriction does not apply to funds received through federal equitable sharing.
District attorneys are required to file annual forfeiture reports with the Department of Local Affairs.
Colo. Rev. Stat. § 16-13-701.
|Year||Reported Forfeiture Proceeds|
|Average per year||$914,187|
Source: Reports of forfeitures from law enforcement agencies and district attorneys made to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs presented in calendar-year format. Not all agencies reported every year, but the Institute for Justice was unable to determine how many agency reports were missing or whether agencies failed to report in a given year because they had no forfeiture activity. IJ found several instances of forfeited property (primarily vehicles) for which a value was not reported. It is possible that some of these numbers overlap with federal equitable sharing or include seizures rather than forfeitures due to reporting errors on the part of the local agencies.
Colorado law enforcement’s use of the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program, with proceeds totaling $47.7 million over the 2000 to 2013 calendar years, earns the state an equitable sharing ranking of 35th place. Seventy-six percent of assets seized and 82 percent of proceeds received through the DOJ’s equitable sharing program came from joint task forces and investigations. This equitable sharing procedure was largely unaffected by DOJ policy changes adopted in 2015. Treasury Department forfeiture proceeds totaled $4.5 million across the 2000 to 2013 fiscal years, averaging almost $325,000 a year.View Local Law Enforcement Data
|Average Per Year||$3,404,054||$324,571|
Sources: Institute for Justice analysis of DOJ forfeiture data obtained by FOIA; Treasury Forfeiture Fund Accountability Reports. Data include civil and criminal forfeitures. Because DOJ figures represent calendar years and Treasury figures cover fiscal years, they cannot be added.