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North Carolina earns a B+ for its civil forfeiture laws:

  • Highest bar to forfeit property and conviction required
  • Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
  • No forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

North Carolina has some of the best forfeiture laws in the country, earning a B+. State law requires the highest possible standard of proof in most cases: a criminal conviction and therefore proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in racketeering cases—those involving organized crime—property can be forfeited in civil court by a preponderance of the evidence. Also in racketeering cases, innocent owners bear the burden of demonstrating that they were in no way involved in the criminal activity associated with their property. North Carolina law provides no incentive for law enforcement agencies to police for profit, as all forfeiture proceeds must go to fund public schools.

North Carolina suffers from a severe lack of transparency and accountability on forfeiture: Law enforcement agencies are not required to report on their forfeitures. The Institute for Justice obtained records of forfeited property sold at auction by filing a North Carolina Public Records Law request with the North Carolina Department of Revenue. Those data indicate that law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $4.6 million worth of property—including a “cowboy lamp,” an Xbox 360 and a “red blanket”—between 2009 and 2013. However, that figure underreports total forfeiture proceeds because it does not include forfeited cash.

Show State Law Sources
Standard of proof

In general, forfeiture requires a criminal conviction.  However, civil forfeiture is available in racketeering cases, which are governed by a preponderance of the evidence standard.

N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 75D-5, 90-112; State ex. rel. Thornburg v. $52,029, 378 S.E.2d 1, 3–5 (N.C. 1989); State v. Johnson, 478 S.E.2d 16, 25 (N.C. Ct. App. 1996).

Innocent owner burden

In the context of a racketeering forfeiture, the owner bears the burden.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75D-5(i); State ex. rel. Thornburg v. 1907 N. Main St., 384 S.E.2d 585, 586–87 (N.C. Ct. App. 1989).

Profit incentive

All forfeiture proceeds must go to public schools.

N.C. Const. art. IX, § 7; State ex. rel. Thornburg v. 532 B St., 432 S.E.2d 684, 686–87 (N.C. 1993).

Reporting requirements


State Forfeiture Data

Proceeds from Sale of Forfeited Property

Year Vehicles Other Property Total
2009 $532,934 $509,971 $1,042,904
2010 $563,901 $400,789 $964,690
2011 $589,671 $393,043 $982,714
2012 $486,585 $311,982 $798,568
2013 $595,063 $248,259 $843,322
Total $2,768,154 $1,864,045 $4,632,199
Average per year $553,631 $372,809 $926,440

Source: Inventory of the sale value of forfeited property obtained through a North Carolina Public Records Law request made to the North Carolina Department of Revenue. These figures are organized by calendar year and do not include cash forfeitures.

North Carolina ranks 42nd for federal forfeiture, with over $162 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

Federal Equitable Sharing

North Carolina law enforcement agencies may not be able to profit from civil forfeiture under state law, but they have found another way to supplement their budgets through forfeiture: the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. Ranking 42nd in the nation on equitable sharing, law enforcement agencies in the Tar Heel State received more than $162 million in DOJ proceeds between the 2000 and 2013 calendar years. Over half of these proceeds—and 69 percent of all assets seized—were the result of adoptions, the equitable sharing procedure curbed by former Attorney General Holder. The remainder stemmed from joint task forces and investigations, the vehicle for equitable sharing that will continue largely unencumbered following the DOJ policy change. Finally, agencies received over $42 million from the Treasury Department’s equitable sharing program between 2000 and 2013, averaging more than $3 million per fiscal year.

View Local Law Enforcement Data
(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
2000 $7,054,017 $46,000
2001 $6,181,517 $754,000
2002 $4,976,389 $1,632,000
2003 $10,273,438 $899,000
2004 $8,686,128 $720,000
2005 $10,601,098 $3,802,000
2006 $16,012,628 $2,675,000
2007 $19,812,152 $2,734,000
2008 $14,386,700 $6,888,000
2009 $15,826,136 $7,081,000
2010 $10,275,267 $3,276,000
2011 $9,996,968 $2,761,000
2012 $15,278,506 $4,108,000
2013 $12,821,362 $5,002,000
Total $162,182,307 $42,378,000
Average Per Year $11,584,450 $3,027,000

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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