South Dakota

Policing for Profit

South Dakota earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws

Low bar to forfeit and no conviction required

Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners

100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

South Dakota has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country, earning a D-. In order to forfeit property, law enforcement need only tie it to a crime by a preponderance of the evidence. An individual wishing to bring an innocent owner claim in the Mount Rushmore State faces the burden of proving that she had nothing to do with the criminal activity in which her property has been implicated. Law enforcement also retains 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds, which are first deposited into the attorney general’s Drug Control Fund and then distributed to law enforcement agencies for drug enforcement efforts. For example, in 2013, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley provided the South Dakota Highway Patrol with a particularly large forfeiture award—$240,936—for the purchase of a single SWAT vehicle.

Compounding those problems, South Dakota law does not require law enforcement agencies to track or report their forfeitures. By filing a South Dakota Open Records Law request, the Institute for Justice was able to obtain records of forfeiture proceeds from the South Dakota Office of the Attorney General, which prosecuted almost $4.1 million in forfeitures between 2010 and 2013, or over $1 million per fiscal year. These figures represent all drug-related civil forfeitures conducted in South Dakota during this time.

State Forfeiture Data

Reported Drug-Related Civil Forfeiture Proceeds

Average per year$813,376$200,994$5,066$1,019,436
Source: Proceeds from drug-related civil forfeitures conducted by the South Dakota Office of the Attorney General. These data are presented in fiscal-year format and were obtained via a South Dakota Open Records Law request.

South Dakota is the best state for federal forfeiture, with just over $1 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

Federal Equitable Sharing

Law enforcement agencies in South Dakota make less use of the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program than do agencies in any other state, perhaps because state law makes it relatively easy for agencies to benefit handsomely from civil forfeiture. Ranking first in the nation on equitable sharing, South Dakota agencies received over $1 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds between the 2000 and 2013 calendar years. More than 99 percent of those proceeds resulted from joint task forces and investigations, however, meaning that agencies’ rate of participation in the DOJ program is unlikely to drop following former Attorney General Holder’s policy change, which primarily affects adoptions. Finally, agencies received $52,000 in equitable sharing proceeds from the Treasury Department between 2000 and 2013—or about $3,700 per fiscal year.

(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
Average Per Year$74,645$3,714

DOJ Equitable Sharing, Adoptive vs. Joint, 2000-2013

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.