Policing for Profit

Missouri earns a B+ for its civil forfeiture laws

Conviction required, but low bar to connect property to the crime

Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners

No forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

Missouri’s civil forfeiture laws are better than most, scoring a B+. Unlike most states, Missouri requires a criminal conviction or a guilty plea before property can be forfeited civilly. However, from there, the government need only connect the property to the crime only by a preponderance of the evidence. And an innocent owner wishing to have property returned must intervene and prove that she had no knowledge of the criminal activity of which her property is accused in order to recover it. Finally, Missouri provides no incentive to police for profit: All forfeiture money must be used to fund schools.

Missouri’s forfeiture reporting requirements look good on paper, but they do little to provide transparency in actuality. Law enforcement officers must report seizures and forfeitures to their prosecuting attorneys or the attorney general, who then provide annual reports to the state auditor. These reports are presented to the Legislature and published on the state auditor’s website. Prosecuting attorneys and the attorney general are also required to detail any criminal charges that were filed and the final disposition of the property—an unusually high level of detail. However, reports only cover assets seized in that calendar year, so assets not fully forfeited by year’s end are simply reported as “pending” and will not appear again in future reports. Thus, these reports may never account for millions of dollars’ worth of forfeitures. In addition, several Missouri agencies failed to report their forfeitures on a yearly basis. The data available show that agencies reportedly forfeited approximately $1.6 million between 2000 and 2014, but this figure likely severely undercounts forfeitures.

State Law Sources

Standard of proofPreponderance of the evidence and a criminal conviction or guilty plea.
Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 513.607(2), (6), .617(1), .645(6); City of Springfield v. Gee, 149 S.W.3d 609, 615–16 (Mo. Ct. App. 2004); State v. Eicholz, 999 S.W.2d 738, 742–43 (Mo. Ct. App. 1999); see also Rodriguez v. Suzuki Motor Corp., 936 S.W.2d 104, 110 (Mo. 1996) (noting preponderance is the minimum standard in civil cases).
Innocent owner burdenOwner.
Mo. Rev. Stat. § 513.615; State v. Beaird, 914 S.W.2d 374, 378 (Mo. Ct. App. 1996); State v. 1973 Fleetwood Mobile Home, 802 S.W.2d 582, 584 & n.3 (Mo. Ct. App. 1991).
Profit incentiveAll forfeiture proceeds go to fund schools.
Mo. Const. art. IX, § 7; Mo. Rev. Stat. § 513.623.
Reporting requirementsAgencies are required to report seizures to the prosecuting attorney or attorney general, who must then create annual aggregate reports and submit them to the state auditor.
Mo. Rev. Stat. § 513.607(6)(2), (8)–(10).

Missouri ranks 34th for federal forfeiture, with over $126 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

State Forfeiture Data

YearReported Forfeiture Proceeds
Average per year$109,891
Source: Annual state auditor reports provided online that compile reports submitted by the state Office of the Attorney General and prosecuting attorneys. Proceeds represent forfeitures completed and transferred to the state during the calendar year in which they were seized. Millions of dollars still pending at the end of a calendar year are not accounted for in the reports, and many counties failed to file reports each year.

Federal Equitable Sharing

Missouri law enforcement’s participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program earns the state 34th place when compared to other states. Missouri agencies received $126.7 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds between 2000 and 2013—more than $9 million per calendar year. The 2015 DOJ policy change intended to curb the practice is unlikely to affect much equitable sharing activity in Missouri: 82 percent of payments to state and local law enforcement came from joint task forces and investigations, seizures largely unaffected by the new policy. The Show-Me State also received over $11 million in forfeiture funds from the Treasury Department between fiscal years 2000 and 2013.

(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
Average Per Year$9,051,596$788,714