Maine Becomes Fourth State to End Civil Forfeiture
In a major win for private property rights and civil liberties, Maine repealed its civil forfeiture laws on Tuesday, when a bipartisan bill (LD 1521) took effect without the governor’s signature. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which only allows the state to confiscate property after a criminal conviction, under civil forfeiture, law enforcement agencies can seize and keep property without prosecutors ever filing criminal charges. Maine now joins Nebraska, New Mexico, and North Carolina as the fourth state that ended civil forfeiture and replaced it with criminal forfeiture.
“Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on due process and private property rights in America today,” said Institute for Justice Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath, who testified in favor of the bill. “Today’s decision to repeal civil forfeiture ends an immense injustice and will ensure that only convicted criminals—and not innocent Mainers—lose their property to forfeiture.”
Sponsored by Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, LD 1521:
- Repeals Maine’s civil forfeiture laws but retains the state’s criminal forfeiture process. Only in a few narrow exceptions—death, deportation, or if the defendant fled or abandoned the property—may law enforcement forfeit property without a conviction;
- Creates a new, prompt post-seizure hearing to strengthen due process; and
- Bolsters transparency by requiring forfeiture reports be publicly accessible on the Department of Public Safety’s website.
Just as critically, LD 1521 closes the “equitable sharing” loophole. Through this program, state and local police collaborate with a federal agency or joint task force, and outsource forfeiture litigation to federal prosecutors, and receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds. Under LD 1521, Maine agencies are barred from equitable sharing, except for cases involving seizures that include $100,000 or more in cash. According to a 2020 report by the Institute for Justice, Maine law enforcement have collected more than $14 million through equitable sharing over the past two decades. In contrast, just over $3 million was forfeited under state law between 2009 and 2019.
“For too long, local and state law enforcement have used equitable sharing to bypass Maine state law because the federal governments offers substantially higher payouts to law enforcement than what law enforcement receives under state law,” McGrath added. “By closing this loophole, LD 1521 will preserve the Maine’s sovereignty and greater protection of Mainers’ rights from federal overreach.”