Minnesota earns a D+ for its civil forfeiture laws
Higher bar to forfeit property and conviction required
Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
90% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement
State Forfeiture Laws
Minnesota has taken several steps to improve its civil forfeiture laws, but the laws still present law enforcement with a dangerous financial incentive to seize property and thus earn a D+ grade. Most promising among recent reforms, all forfeitures in Minnesota now require that the property owner be convicted in criminal court. A guilty owner’s property may then be forfeited in civil court if the government can tie it to the crime by clear and convincing evidence. Unfortunately, in innocent owner cases, the burden remains on property owners to prove that they had nothing to do with the alleged criminal activity involving their property. And in drunken-driving cases, a joint owner of a seized vehicle who is not charged with a crime cannot raise an innocent owner defense at all if the other owner is convicted of drunken driving. Most troubling of all, Minnesota law continues to give law enforcement agencies a compelling reason to seize: In all but a few cases, they get to keep 90 percent of all forfeiture proceeds.
Minnesota agencies must report their forfeitures to the state auditor each month. These monthly reports are aggregated into an annual forfeiture report published on the auditor’s website. State law could improve transparency by requiring reporting on how forfeiture funds are spent and ensuring that agencies report as required. As it stands, dozens of agencies fail to report each year. Between 2000 and 2013, Minnesota agencies reported forfeiting more than $62 million. Prior to 2010, the auditor’s reports did not include vehicles forfeited in relation to drunken-driving offenses. It is therefore impossible to tell how much of the increase in forfeiture proceeds after 2010 was due to additional reporting requirements versus an increase in forfeiture activity.
State Law Sources
Standard of proof
A criminal conviction is required for civil forfeiture and government must connect property to a crime by clear and convincing evidence. Minn. Stat. § 609.531, subd. 6(a), (b), (d).
Innocent owner burden
Owner. Minn. Stat. § 609.5311, subd. 3; Jacobson v. $55,900 in U.S. Currency, 728 N.W.2d 510, 520 & n.6 (Minn. 2007); Blanche v. 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix, 599 N.W.2d 161, 167 (Minn. 1999). NB: In DWI/DUI cases, a vehicle’s joint owner may not raise an innocent owner defense if the vehicle’s other owner is guilty. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7(d); Laase v. 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe, 776 N.W.2d 431, 439–40 (Minn. 2009).
90 percent, except in cases involving prostitution or human trafficking, when 60 percent goes to law enforcement. Minn. Stat. § 609.5315, subds. 5, 5a, 5b.
Minnesota ranks 19th for federal forfeiture, with nearly $26 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.
State Forfeiture Data
Reported Forfeiture Proceeds
Average per year
Source: Annual state auditor reports of forfeitures reported by law enforcement agencies published online each calendar year. Each year, some agencies failed to file reports or to report having conducted no forfeitures, as required.
Federal Equitable Sharing
Minnesota ranks 19th on equitable sharing. Between 2000 and 2013, law enforcement agencies received $25.9 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds, averaging nearly $1.9 million per calendar year. The vast majority of those proceeds—71 percent—came via joint task forces and investigations, suggesting that 2015 DOJ reforms that left such equitable sharing activity largely intact will have little effect in Minnesota. Minnesota agencies also took in over $1.6 million in Treasury Department equitable sharing proceeds between the 2000 and 2013 fiscal years.