Wyoming’s civil forfeiture laws are in serious need of reform. Earning a D-, state law only requires the government to tie property to a crime by a preponderance of the evidence in order to forfeit it. Innocent owners bear the burden of proving that they had nothing to do with the criminal activity associated with their property in order to have it returned to them. Wyoming law enforcement agencies also have a tremendous incentive to police for profit—they may retain up to 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds.
Even the Wyoming Legislature has recognized that the state’s laws need fixing. In 2015, both houses approved a bill that would have required a felony drug conviction and a sentence of at least one year in prison before property could be forfeited. But Gov. Matt Mead vetoed the bill, arguing that civil forfeiture “is important and it is a right.”
Unfortunately, Wyoming law enforcement agencies are not required to report forfeitures. However, the Institute for Justice did receive data from the Office of the Attorney General in response to a Wyoming Public Records Act request. Data report a total of more than $1 million in state forfeiture proceeds between 2008 and 2013, averaging close to $172,000 per year.
|Standard of proof||
Preponderance of the evidence.
See In re U.S. Currency Totaling $7,209.00, 2012 WY 75, ¶ 9, 278 P.3d 234, 237 (Wyo. 2012).
|Innocent owner burden||
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1050.
Up to 100 percent.
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1049(e).
Harper, C. (2015, February 17). Wyoming governor vetoes asset forfeiture reform bill. The Daily Caller. Retrieved from http://dailycaller.com/2015/02/17/breaking-wyoming-governor-vetos-asset-forfeiture-reform-bill/.
|Year||Reported Forfeiture Proceeds|
|Average per year||$171,799|
Source: The Office of the Attorney General’s calendar-year reports of forfeitures reported by Wyoming law enforcement agencies. The Institute for Justice obtained these data via a Wyoming Public Records Act request.
When it comes to equitable sharing, Wyoming is one of the better states in the country, ranking 3rd nationally. Wyoming agencies received nearly $1.9 million in equitable sharing proceeds from the Department of Justice between 2000 and 2013, averaging slightly more than $133,000 per year. More than two-thirds of these proceeds came from joint task forces and investigations, procedures that remain mostly intact following the DOJ’s 2015 equitable sharing policy change. Wyoming agencies also received $652,000 in equitable sharing proceeds from the Treasury Department between 2000 and 2013, averaging close to $47,000 per fiscal year.View Local Law Enforcement Data
|Average Per Year||$133,241||$46,571|
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.