Policing for Profit

Illinois 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

Illinois’ civil forfeiture laws offer property owners very little protection, earning a D-. In general, the standard of proof required to forfeit property in Illinois is preponderance of the evidence, and Illinois has been graded on that basis. However, the Prairie State also has terrible forfeiture procedures unlike those of any other state. Unless the property seized is real property—a house or a piece of land, for example—worth more than $150,000, property owners must pay a bond worth $100 or 10 percent of the value of the property, whichever is greater, just for the opportunity to challenge a seizure in court. If they lose their case, owners must give up their entire bond and pay the full cost of the forfeiture proceedings; but even if they win, they must relinquish 10 percent of the bond. To make matters worse, innocent owners bear the burden of proving that they were in no way involved with the criminal activity associated with their property, and law enforcement retains 90 percent of all forfeiture revenue—a strong incentive to seize.

Seizing agencies in Illinois are required to report only very basic information about each incident to the state’s attorney: An inventory of the seized property and an estimate of the property’s value. Although this requirement creates some internal accountability for law enforcement, the data are not aggregated or made publicly available, meaning taxpayers must file a request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act for any information about forfeiture activity. Data obtained for this report indicate that law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $113 million between 2009 and 2013.

State Law Sources

Standard of proofIn general, the government must show probable cause and an owner must show by a preponderance of the evidence that her property is not forfeitable.
725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 150/9(G); People v. $174,980 United States Currency, 996 N.E.2d 1102, 1109–11 (Ill. App. Ct. 2013).

But when property is worth less than $150,000 and is not real property, the government need not make any showing. Forfeiture is automatic in these circumstances unless an owner files a claim and deposits a bond worth the greater of $100 or 10 percent of the value of the property. The owner must pay the cost of the forfeiture proceeding in full if she loses and must pay 10 percent of her bond to the court even if she prevails. The owner forfeits 90 percent of the bond to the prosecutor if she loses any of her property in the proceeding.

725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 150/6(C)–(D).
Innocent owner burdenOwner.
725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 150/8, 150/9(G).
Profit incentive90 percent.
720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 570/505(g).
Reporting requirementsSeizing agencies must provide an inventory of drug-related seizures to the Director of the Department of State Police and reports of all property seized for forfeiture to the state’s attorney for the county.
720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 550/12(d); 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 150/5.

Illinois ranks 40th for federal forfeiture, with over $186 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

State Forfeiture Data

Reported Forfeiture Proceeds

YearCurrencyVehiclesReal PropertyOtherTotal
Average per year$20,174,716$1,664,155$505,904$266,496$22,611,271

Reported Number of Forfeited Assets

YearCurrencyVehiclesReal PropertyOtherTotal
Average per year7,2601,07267829,120
Source: A file from an internal database maintained by the Illinois State Police of forfeitures conducted by all Illinois law enforcement agencies. These data were provided by the Illinois State Police in response to an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Institute for Justice.

Federal Equitable Sharing

Illinois ranks 40th on equitable sharing, with law enforcement agencies bringing in $186.8 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds between the 2000 and 2013 calendar years. The vast majority of equitable sharing proceeds—91 percent—were from joint task forces and investigations. This vehicle for equitable sharing was left largely intact by policy changes announced in 2015 intended to curb the practice. Illinois law enforcement agencies also netted $36.7 million in Treasury Department forfeiture funds during fiscal years 2000 to 2013.

(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
Average Per Year$13,343,052$2,619,714