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North Dakota earns an F for its civil forfeiture laws:

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

State Forfeiture Laws

Along with Massachusetts, North Dakota has the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country, scoring an F. In North Dakota, law enforcement only needs to meet the lowest possible standard of proof—probable cause—to forfeit property. And when property has been used for illegal activity without the owner’s knowledge, the burden is on the owner to prove her innocence in order to recover it. Finally, North Dakota law enforcement agents operate under a particularly dangerous financial incentive: Agencies receive up to 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds up to $200,000. If the government’s forfeiture fund exceeds $200,000 over any two-year budget period, the excess must be deposited in the general fund—encouraging law enforcement agencies to adopt a use-it-or-lose-it mentality.

The story of Adam Bush illustrates the hazards these laws pose to property owners. In August 2013, Bush was charged with stealing a safe full of cash. A jury later found him innocent of any wrongdoing, and the state’s attorney even admitted the evidence against Bush was “highly circumstantial.” Nonetheless, county sheriffs were able to forfeit Bush’s alleged getaway car. Unfortunately, it is impossible to get a good picture of the extent of forfeitures in North Dakota because law enforcement agencies are not required to track or report their forfeitures.

Show State Law Sources
Standard of proof

The government’s burden is probable cause; an innocent owner’s burden is preponderance of the evidence.

N.D. Cent. Code § 19-03.1-36.6; State v. One 2002 Dodge Intrepid Auto., 841 N.W.2d 239, 242 (N.D. 2013); State v. $44,140.00 U.S. Currency, 820 N.W.2d 697, 702 (N.D. 2012); but cf. N.D. Cent. Code § 19-03.1-36.2 (stating that the standard of proof in forfeiture proceedings is preponderance of the evidence).

Innocent owner burden


N.D. Cent. Code § 19-03.1-37(1).

Profit incentive

Up to 100 percent. If the government’s forfeiture fund exceeds $200,000 over any two-year budget period, the excess must be deposited in the general fund.

N.D. Cent. Code §§ 54-12-14, 19-03.1-36(5).

Reporting requirements


Other sources

J.F. (2014, May 12). Not so fast. The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2014/05/asset-forfeiture.

State Forfeiture Data

No data available. Law enforcement agencies are not required to track or report their forfeitures.

North Dakota is the 2nd best state for federal forfeiture, with $550,000 in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

Federal Equitable Sharing

North Dakota has made such little use of the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program that the only state with a better track record is its neighbor South Dakota. Between 2000 and 2013, North Dakota law enforcement agencies received $550,000 in equitable sharing proceeds, averaging nearly $40,000 per calendar year. Just 75 assets were seized during this period, which averages out to five equitable sharing assets seized each calendar year. Eighty-seven percent of assets seized and 94 percent of proceeds received resulted from joint task forces and investigations, equitable sharing practices largely untouched by the DOJ policy intended to curb equitable sharing. North Dakota agencies also received almost $1.4 million in Treasury Department forfeiture funds between 2000 and 2013, averaging out to over $97,000 each fiscal year.

View Local Law Enforcement Data
(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
2000 $50,660 $711,000
2001 $15,705 $2,000
2002 $34,384 $0
2003 $7,353 $0
2004 $19,167 $296,000
2005 $40,874 $0
2006 $49,348 $0
2007 $78,824 $0
2008 $12,568 $349,000
2009 $91,410 $0
2010 $8,524 $0
2011 $26,582 $0
2012 $96,481 $2,000
2013 $18,604 $0
Total $550,483 $1,360,000
Average Per Year $39,320 $97,143

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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