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New York earns a C for its civil forfeiture laws:

  • Higher bar to forfeit property and conviction required for some forfeitures
  • Stronger protections for innocent third-party property owners
  • 60% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

New York’s civil forfeiture laws are not the nation’s worst, earning a C, but law enforcement is able to bypass them through equitable sharing activity so extensive it is surpassed by that of only two states. For drug crimes, which typically draw the greatest amount of forfeiture activity, the government must prove that an individual committed a crime by clear and convincing evidence. Then the government must connect seized property to that crime by a preponderance of the evidence in order to forfeit it. Most other non-drug crimes generally require a criminal conviction. And in innocent owner claims the government bears the burden of proving that a claimant had knowledge of or involvement in the crime giving rise to the forfeiture. New York law enforcement keeps 60 percent of all forfeiture proceeds—one of the lower incentives nationally but still a significant reason to seize.

New York law enforcement agencies are required to report “the disposal of property and collection of assets” to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, which makes annual reports to the Legislature and publishes them online. Reports could be improved with the addition of itemized lists of forfeited assets, detailed breakdowns of forfeiture fund expenditures, and other key details. Between 1997 and 2013, New York agencies reported forfeiting an astounding $367 million, averaging $21.6 million per calendar year.

Show State Law Sources
Standard of proof

Generally, forfeitures must be based on a criminal conviction.  For drug crimes, however, a criminal conviction is not necessary and the government need only establish that a drug crime has occurred by clear and convincing evidence and then connect property to that crime by a preponderance of the evidence in order to forfeit it.

N.Y. C.P.L.R. §§ 1310(5)–(6), (9)–(10), 1311(3)(a)–(b)(McKinney); Hendley v. Clark, 543 N.Y.S.2d 554, 556 (N.Y. App. Div. 1989).

Innocent owner burden


N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 1311(3)(McKinney).

Profit incentive

60 percent.

N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 1349(2)(g)–(h)(McKinney).

Reporting requirements

Agencies are required to make annual forfeiture reports to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, which must provide aggregate annual reports to the Legislature.

N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 1349(4)(McKinney); N.Y. Exec. § 837-a(6)(McKinney).


State Forfeiture Data

Reported Forfeiture Proceeds

Year District Attorneys Task Forces & State Agencies Total
1997 $6,017,036 $1,995,320 $8,012,356
1998 $5,863,458 $2,579,656 $8,443,114
1999 $10,347,820 $2,163,736 $12,511,556
2000 $10,971,543 $3,113,189 $14,084,732
2001 $5,269,566 $0 $5,269,566
2002 $9,231,936 $3,426,377 $12,658,313
2003 $11,504,813 $2,234,839 $13,739,652
2004 $10,852,869 $3,691,085 $14,543,954
2005 $13,784,406 $1,975,790 $15,760,196
2006 $15,187,011 $4,846,924 $20,033,935
2007 $22,015,787 $53,129,385 $75,145,172
2008 $17,528,212 $372,858 $17,901,070
2009 $20,893,136 $1,057,203 $21,950,339
2010 $12,944,287 $770,502 $13,714,789
2011 $20,882,521 $29,101,000 $49,983,521
2012 $16,088,304 $840,011 $16,928,315
2013 $46,313,714 $504,013 $46,817,727
Total $255,696,419 $111,801,888 $367,498,307
Average per year $15,040,966 $6,576,582 $21,617,547

Source: Calendar-year forfeiture reports obtained online from the Division of Criminal Justice Services. Reports include data submitted to the division by all law enforcement agencies. Data represent the value of all cash forfeitures and the sale value of forfeited property; they do not represent the value of property that is forfeited but not sold.

New York ranks 49th for federal forfeiture, with over $437 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

Federal Equitable Sharing

New York agencies apparently work around the Empire State’s lower profit incentive and better-than-average property rights protections through the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program, which allows agencies to retain up to 80 percent of forfeiture proceeds. New York agencies’ participation in the program ranks 49th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Agencies received a whopping $437.5 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds between 2000 and 2013—more than $31 million each calendar year. Eighty-five percent of proceeds stemmed from joint task forces and investigations, equitable sharing practices largely unaffected by former Attorney General Holder’s 2015 policy change. Moreover, proceeds have displayed an upward trend over the years, starting at $24 million in 2000 and exceeding $67 million in 2013. New York agencies also brought in $174.6 million from the Treasury Department’s equitable sharing program between fiscal years 2000 and 2013.

View Local Law Enforcement Data
(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
2000 $24,271,882 $980,000
2001 $18,003,629 $22,266,000
2002 $14,153,690 $8,427,000
2003 $25,138,936 $9,466,000
2004 $24,676,590 $9,820,000
2005 $28,181,250 $15,303,000
2006 $20,776,571 $9,605,000
2007 $41,330,522 $9,064,000
2008 $30,495,247 $8,613,000
2009 $42,575,559 $11,959,000
2010 $28,668,646 $16,598,000
2011 $45,562,000 $12,863,000
2012 $26,545,255 $28,437,000
2013 $67,134,340 $11,192,000
Total $437,514,116 $174,593,000
Average Per Year $31,251,008 $12,470,929

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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