Policing for Profit

Iowa 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

Iowa has terrible civil forfeiture laws, earning a D-. State law only requires that the government demonstrate a property’s guilt by a preponderance of the evidence to forfeit it. When individuals bring innocent owner claims, they bear the burden of proving they had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the alleged illegal use of their property. Aggravating the situation, Iowa law enforcement agencies retain 100 percent of all proceeds from forfeited property and thus enjoy a strong incentive to seize property whenever possible.

Not only does Iowa have some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country, but state and local law enforcement agencies face virtually no public accountability for their forfeiture actions. State law contains no provision for maintaining records of assets forfeited or for making reports of forfeitures to a centralized agency. However, state law does require that 10 percent of all forfeiture proceeds be directed to the Iowa County Attorneys Association. The Institute for Justice filed an Iowa Open Records Law request and was able to use records of proceeds received by the ICAA to estimate the value of forfeited assets. The records indicate that Iowa law enforcement agencies forfeited an average of more than $3 million per calendar year between 2009 and 2013, or almost $16 million in total.

State Law Sources

Standard of proofPreponderance of the evidence.
Iowa Code § 809A.13(7).
Innocent owner burdenOwner.
Iowa Code § 809A.13(7).
Profit incentive100 percent.
Iowa Code § 809A.17.
Reporting requirementsNone

Iowa ranks 27th for federal forfeiture, with over $36 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

State Forfeiture Data

YearEstimated Currency Forfeiture ProceedsEstimated Real Property Forfeiture ProceedsEstimated Total Forfeiture ProceedsNumber of Vehicles Forfeited
Average per year$3,146,552$18,920$3,165,472162
Source: Accounting of forfeiture proceeds received by the Iowa County Attorneys Association and obtained by the Institute for Justice through an Iowa Open Records Law request. Pursuant to Iowa Code § 809A.17.5.e, the ICAA receives 10 percent of all forfeiture proceeds. The Institute for Justice obtained figures for forfeiture proceeds received by the ICAA and multiplied those numbers by 10 to arrive at a 100 percent picture of Iowa forfeitures. These data are presented in calendar years.

Federal Equitable Sharing

The Hawkeye State ranks 27th for equitable sharing. Between 2000 and 2013, law enforcement received over $36 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds, or roughly $2.6 million per calendar year. Nearly half of these proceeds came from joint task forces and investigations, the type of procedures allowed to continue with few limits by the DOJ’s policy change aimed at reining in equitable sharing. Iowa agencies also brought in $2.5 million in forfeiture proceeds from the Treasury Department between the 2000 and 2013 fiscal years.

(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
Average Per Year$2,576,401$179,500