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Iowa earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws:

  • Low bar to forfeit and no conviction required
  • Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
  • 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

Iowa has terrible civil forfeiture laws, earning a D-. State law only requires that the government demonstrate a property’s guilt by a preponderance of the evidence to forfeit it. When individuals bring innocent owner claims, they bear the burden of proving they had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the alleged illegal use of their property. Aggravating the situation, Iowa law enforcement agencies retain 100 percent of all proceeds from forfeited property and thus enjoy a strong incentive to seize property whenever possible.

Not only does Iowa have some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country, but state and local law enforcement agencies face virtually no public accountability for their forfeiture actions. State law contains no provision for maintaining records of assets forfeited or for making reports of forfeitures to a centralized agency. However, state law does require that 10 percent of all forfeiture proceeds be directed to the Iowa County Attorneys Association. The Institute for Justice filed an Iowa Open Records Law request and was able to use records of proceeds received by the ICAA to estimate the value of forfeited assets. The records indicate that Iowa law enforcement agencies forfeited an average of more than $3 million per calendar year between 2009 and 2013, or almost $16 million in total.

Show State Law Sources
Standard of proof

Preponderance of the evidence.

Iowa Code § 809A.13(7).

Innocent owner burden


Iowa Code § 809A.13(7).

Profit incentive

100 percent.

Iowa Code § 809A.17.

Reporting requirements


State Forfeiture Data

Year Estimated Currency Forfeiture Proceeds Estimated Real Property Forfeiture Proceeds Estimated Total Forfeiture Proceeds Number of Vehicles Forfeited
2009 $2,262,420 $28,000 $2,290,420 194
2010 $1,929,236 $16,500 $1,945,736 132
2011 $5,640,969 $2,000 $5,642,969 169
2012 $2,864,915 $40,000 $2,904,915 173
2013 $3,035,221 $8,100 $3,043,321 140
Total $15,732,761 $94,600 $15,827,361 808
Average per year $3,146,552 $18,920 $3,165,472 162

Source: Accounting of forfeiture proceeds received by the Iowa County Attorneys Association and obtained by the Institute for Justice through an Iowa Open Records Law request. Pursuant to Iowa Code § 809A.17.5.e, the ICAA receives 10 percent of all forfeiture proceeds. The Institute for Justice obtained figures for forfeiture proceeds received by the ICAA and multiplied those numbers by 10 to arrive at a 100 percent picture of Iowa forfeitures. These data are presented in calendar years.

Iowa ranks 27th for federal forfeiture, with over $36 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

Federal Equitable Sharing

The Hawkeye State ranks 27th for equitable sharing. Between 2000 and 2013, law enforcement received over $36 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds, or roughly $2.6 million per calendar year. Nearly half of these proceeds came from joint task forces and investigations, the type of procedures allowed to continue with few limits by the DOJ’s policy change aimed at reining in equitable sharing. Iowa agencies also brought in $2.5 million in forfeiture proceeds from the Treasury Department between the 2000 and 2013 fiscal years.

View Local Law Enforcement Data
(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
2000 $793,520 $2,000
2001 $575,284 $2,000
2002 $500,572 $4,000
2003 $4,623,620 $161,000
2004 $2,643,657 $5,000
2005 $2,287,631 $91,000
2006 $1,400,976 $111,000
2007 $1,246,584 $0
2008 $3,417,109 $20,000
2009 $6,382,194 $4,000
2010 $4,341,782 $118,000
2011 $3,790,540 $232,000
2012 $1,650,927 $1,220,000
2013 $2,415,217 $543,000
Total $36,069,612 $2,513,000
Average Per Year $2,576,401 $179,500

DOJ Equitable Sharing,
Adoptive vs. Joint, 2000-2013

Joint Task Forces and Investigations

DOJ Equitable Sharing Proceeds, 2000-2013

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.

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