Policing for Profit
Maryland earns a B for its civil forfeiture laws
Low bar to forfeit and no conviction required
Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
No forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement
State Forfeiture Laws
Earning a B grade, Maryland’s civil forfeiture laws are better than those of most other states, thanks largely to their lack of a profit incentive. However, the state should provide stronger protections to property owners. In order to forfeit property, law enforcement generally only has to tie the property to a crime by a preponderance of the evidence. An innocent owner typically bears the burden of proving that she had nothing to do with the alleged criminal activity giving rise to the seizure, but a primary family residence cannot be forfeited unless both spousal co-owners are convicted of a crime. Finally, Maryland law enforcement agencies have no financial incentive to seize property under state law—all forfeiture proceeds must be deposited into the general fund of the state or local governing body.
The Maryland General Assembly voted in 2015 to modestly reform the state’s civil forfeiture laws, but Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bill. The bill would have shifted the innocent owner burden, requiring the government to prove that property owners had actual knowledge of the alleged crime that prompted the seizure or consented to the use of their property in that crime’s commission.
Even though Maryland’s civil forfeiture laws are better than those of most states, they still suffer from a troubling lack of transparency: Agencies are not required to track or report their forfeitures.
State Law Sources
|Standard of proof||Generally, preponderance of the evidence.|
1986 Mercedes Benz v. State, 638 A.2d 1164, 1168 (Md. 1994).
But, in some circumstances, the government can (but need not) establish a rebuttable presumption in favor of forfeiture if the government shows by clear and convincing evidence that, for example, money was acquired shortly after a drug crime when there is no other apparent source for the money.
Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. § 12-312(a).
|Innocent owner burden||Generally, an owner bears the burden of proof, but a primary family residence cannot be forfeited unless both spousal co-owners are convicted of a crime.|
Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. §§ 12-103(a), (e), 12-312(b).
|Reporting requirements||S.B. 528, 2015 Gen. Assemb., 2015 Reg. Sess. (Md. 2015).|
Snead, J. (2015, June 1). Hogan fails on forfeiture reform. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-civil-forfeiture-20150601-story.html.
Maryland ranks 21st for federal forfeiture, with over $80 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.
State Forfeiture Data
No data available. Agencies are not required to track or report their forfeitures.
Federal Equitable Sharing
In a ranking of states’ participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program, Maryland places 21st. Between 2000 and 2013, Maryland law enforcement agencies received $80.8 million in equitable sharing proceeds from the DOJ, or almost $5.8 million per calendar year. Joint task forces and investigations accounted for about half of equitable sharing seizures and nearly two-thirds of proceeds. These kinds of seizures were generally unaffected by new DOJ rules intended to curb equitable sharing. Maryland agencies also received more than $26 million in Treasury Department equitable sharing proceeds between 2000 and 2013, which equates to close to $1.9 million each fiscal year.ing almost $325,000 a year.
|Average Per Year||$5,773,294||$1,859,929|