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Washington earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws:

  • Low bar to forfeit and no conviction required
  • Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
  • 90% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

Washington’s civil forfeiture laws are among the nation’s worst, earning a D-. State law only requires the government to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that property is associated with criminal activity in order to forfeit it. Furthermore, innocent owners bear the burden of demonstrating that they had nothing to do with the criminal activity associated with their property in order to recover it. Washington law enforcement agencies retain 90 percent of forfeiture proceeds—a considerable incentive to police for profit.

Washington law contains only vague forfeiture reporting requirements: Law enforcement agencies must submit quarterly “records of forfeited property” to the Office of the State Treasurer. This leaves important details—such as whether a case was criminal or civil or what type of property was forfeited—unaccounted for. Further, there is no requirement that even these limited reports be published online, requiring interested parties to file Washington Public Records Act requests in order to understand the scope of forfeiture in the state. The Institute for Justice filed such a request with the state treasurer and obtained records of the 10 percent of all forfeiture proceeds that law enforcement agencies pay to that office. These records enabled IJ to estimate the total value of forfeiture proceeds in Washington—more than $108 million between 2001 and 2013.

Show State Law Sources
Standard of proof

Preponderance of the evidence.

Wash Rev. Code § 69.50.505(5).

Innocent owner burden


Wash. Rev. Code § 69.50.505(1)(d)(ii), (g), (h)(i).

Profit incentive

90 percent.

Wash. Rev. Code § 69.50.505(9).

Reporting requirements

Seizing agencies are required to file quarterly reports of forfeited property with the state treasurer.

Wash. Rev. Code § 69.50.505(8)(c)–(d).

State Forfeiture Data

Year Estimated Forfeiture Proceeds
2001 $7,050,840
2002 $6,806,450
2003 $9,864,000
2004 $8,243,900
2005 $13,299,350
2006 $8,664,060
2007 $1,043,408
2008 $9,458,470
2009 $8,872,587
2010 $8,179,924
2011 $10,688,738
2012 $9,862,644
2013 $6,354,510
Total $108,388,882
Average per year $8,337,606

Source: The Institute for Justice filed a Washington Public Records Act request with the Office of the State Treasurer, and obtained calendar-year records of forfeiture proceeds transferred from law enforcement agencies to the treasurer. These transfers represented 10 percent of all forfeiture proceeds in Washington, so IJ multiplied the figures by 10 in order to estimate the total value of forfeiture proceeds in the state.

Washington ranks 37th for federal forfeiture, with over $38 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

Federal Equitable Sharing

Washington law enforcement agencies participate in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program more often than most other states’ agencies, earning 37th place in the rankings. Between 2000 and 2013, Washington law enforcement agencies received over $38 million in equitable sharing proceeds, averaging more than $2.7 million per calendar year. Nearly all of these proceeds resulted from joint task forces and investigations—one of the federal procedures mostly left alone by the 2015 DOJ policy change—suggesting that equitable sharing will remain a problem in the Evergreen State. Washington agencies also received over $25.6 million from the Treasury Department’s equitable sharing program between 2000 and 2013, averaging more than $1.8 million per fiscal year.

View Local Law Enforcement Data
(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
2000 $1,174,744 $180,000
2001 $1,955,291 $804,000
2002 $831,932 $745,000
2003 $1,558,070 $310,000
2004 $2,617,737 $292,000
2005 $2,724,235 $575,000
2006 $2,128,441 $711,000
2007 $3,713,673 $4,249,000
2008 $1,455,282 $2,107,000
2009 $5,051,539 $8,910,000
2010 $3,997,841 $1,526,000
2011 $2,082,927 $997,000
2012 $3,798,990 $1,340,000
2013 $5,071,076 $2,871,000
Total $38,161,778 $25,617,000
Average Per Year $2,725,841 $1,829,786

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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