Following reforms adopted in 2015, the District of Columbia’s civil forfeiture laws are now some of the best in the nation, earning a B+. In the District, the general standard-of-proof rule is still too low: The government need only show by a preponderance of the evidence that property is forfeitable. But in order to forfeit vehicles, real property or cash amounts less than $1,000, the government must meet a higher standard, presenting clear and convincing evidence that the property is associated with a crime. And if a property owner faces the forfeiture of her primary residence, at least one owner must be convicted of the offense giving rise to the seizure. The government also bears the burden of proof when an innocent owner makes a claim to regain seized property. Best of all, D.C.’s forfeiture laws no longer provide law enforcement with a financial incentive to forfeit property, as all proceeds must now be deposited into the District’s general fund.
In addition, the District’s reforms entitle property owners to contest seizures in court shortly after they happen, giving them an opportunity to get their car, money or other property back while awaiting a forfeiture trial rather than letting the government hold on to the property. The reform legislation will also substantially improve forfeiture reporting. The data obtained by the Institute for Justice reflect only administrative civil forfeitures reported by the Metropolitan Police Department rather than all types of forfeitures conducted in Washington, D.C. Beginning in 2016, the MPD and the Office of the Attorney General will be required to report their forfeiture activity to the City Council and publish that information on their websites.
|Standard of proof||
Preponderance of the evidence (general rule); clear and convincing evidence (motor vehicles, real property and up to $1,000 in currency).
If the property is the primary residence of the owner, an owner of the property must be convicted of the offense giving rise to forfeiture.
D.C. Code § 41-308(d)(1), (4).
|Innocent owner burden||
D.C. Code §§ 41-302(b), 41-308(d)(1).
No profit incentive. All currency and proceeds from sales of forfeited property must be deposited in the general fund.
D.C. Code § 41-310(a)(2).
The attorney general and Metropolitan Police Department are required to create aggregate forfeiture reports and will be required to publish them on their websites beginning January 1, 2016.
D.C. Code § 41-312.
D.C. Code § 41-306 (requiring a prompt hearing when property is seized).
|Average per year||$764,396||$840,527||$1,604,922|
|Average per year||2,858||113||2||2,973|
Source: Reports of administrative civil forfeitures submitted by the Asset Forfeiture Unit to the Evidence Control Branch of the Metropolitan Police Department, obtained by the Institute for Justice through the District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act.
The District ranks fourth on equitable sharing, and the 2015 reforms will end D.C.’s participation in federal equitable sharing programs altogether, effective October 2018. Adoptions will be banned and proceeds from joint task force and investigation forfeitures will be directed to the city’s general fund, effectively making D.C. ineligible for equitable sharing funds. From 2000 to 2013, D.C. law enforcement took in, on average, over $592,000 each calendar year from the Department of Justice and approximately $134,000 each fiscal year from the Treasury Department.View Local Law Enforcement Data
|Average Per Year||$592,420||$133,929|
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.