Minneapolis, Minn.—Yesterday the Minnesota House of Representatives rejected legislation to end civil forfeiture abuse. Also known as “policing for profit,” civil forfeiture makes it easier for police and prosecutors to seize and keep private property even if the owner has never been convicted of a crime. In Minnesota, 90 percent of the proceeds from private property seizures stay within the budget of the police agency and prosecutor’s office that take the property giving these agencies a direct financial incentive to abuse these laws rather than seek the neutral administration of justice. Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) offered two amendments to H.B. 2610 that were turned down by votes of 110-20 and 111-20.
“Many of the House members who voted against Rep. Liebling’s amendments effectively said yesterday that an endorsement from the police officers union is more important than making much-needed changes that would have protected all property owners in Minnesota,” said Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter, a public interest law firm that supported the reforms. “The state’s reputation of good government is in jeopardy as long as legislators ignore the perverse financial incentives in the state’s asset forfeiture laws. As long as those incentives exist, we will continue to see policing for profit.”
The problems of civil forfeiture are now well known to Minnesotans. Last year, police officers assigned to the Metro Gang Strike Force were found to be stopping individuals who had no connection to gang activities and seizing money and other property without filing charges against the owner or even accusing the owner of illegal activities.
Rep. Liebling’s amendments would have required the proceeds from forfeiture to be dedicated to a neutral fund for statewide public safety and required a conviction for drug offenses before assets could be forfeited. These reforms would have removed the ill incentives and protected innocent owners of property. A majority of House members, however, rejected both amendments.
“Forfeiture laws give law enforcement the wrong incentives and invite abuse,” said McGrath. “The Legislature missed the chance to remove the direct profit incentive that civil forfeiture creates. The Institute for Justice will continue to advocate for changes in Minnesota’s law until all Minnesotans are protected from the threat of unlawful seizures of their personal property.