Policing for Profit

Maine earns a B+ for its civil forfeiture laws

Low bar to forfeit and no conviction required

Limited protections for innocent third-party property owners

No forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

Maine’s civil forfeiture laws earn a B+. The state’s high law grade stems from the lack of an incentive to police for profit: With few exceptions, all forfeiture proceeds go directly into the state general fund. Maine’s law grade could be even higher if not for the state’s low standard of proof. Law enforcement may forfeit property by showing by a mere preponderance of the evidence that it is tied to a crime. In most cases, Maine law also puts the burden on innocent owners to prove that they had nothing to do with the alleged criminal activity with which their property has been associated. However, in cases involving a family’s primary residence, the burden is on the government to prove that a spouse or child knew about the owner’s illegal activity before it may forfeit the home.

Maine law requires law enforcement agencies to maintain an inventory of the property they seize and forfeit. However, reports need not be filed with a centralized agency or published online, making it difficult for the public to hold law enforcement accountable for forfeiture actions. Between calendar years 2009 and 2013, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency forfeited almost $1.5 million in cash, as well as additional non-cash assets for which no value is given in the MDEA’s inventory.

State Law Sources

Standard of proofPreponderance of the evidence.
Me. Stat. tit. 15, § 5822(3).
Innocent owner burdenOwner, except in cases involving a family’s primary residence, when the government bears the burden to show that any spouse or minor children knew about or consented to the owner’s illegal conduct.
Me. Stat. tit. 15, §§ 5821(7)(A), 5822(3).
Profit incentiveNo profit incentive—all forfeiture proceeds go to the general fund unless another transfer is specifically approved by the court and by the governor or attorney general (in the case of a state forfeiture) or the relevant governmental entity (in the case of county-level or municipal-level forfeitures).
Me. Stat. tit. 15, §§ 5822(4), 5824.
Reporting requirementsAgencies must maintain an inventory of seized property.
Me. Stat. tit. 15, § 5825.

Maine is the 5th best state for federal forfeiture, with over $5 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

State Forfeiture Data: Drug Enforcement Agency Currency Forfeitures

Average per year$247,395
Source: Inventory of currency forfeitures conducted by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. The Institute for Justice obtained these data through a Maine Freedom of Access Act request made to the Maine Department of Public Safety. The inventory is organized by calendar year and includes vehicles and other forfeited property, though no value is provided for non-currency items. While MDEA forfeitures do not offer a complete picture of forfeiture in Maine, they likely capture a large portion of the state forfeiture revenues, given that drug-related cases are probably the most common type of forfeiture.

Federal Equitable Sharing

Maine law enforcement participates sparingly in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program, earning the state a fifth-place ranking. Between 2000 and 2013, law enforcement agencies received nearly $5.8 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds—about $400,000 per calendar year. The vast majority of Maine law enforcement’s DOJ equitable sharing proceeds came from joint task forces and investigations, indicating that proceeds are likely to hold steady in the face of the 2015 policy change curbing adoptive forfeitures. Over fiscal years 2000 to 2013, Maine law enforcement agencies also received almost $4.4 million in Treasury Department equitable sharing funds.

(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
Average Per Year$411,553$312,643