Policing for Profit

Montana earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws

Higher bar to forfeit property and conviction required

Stronger protections for innocent third-party property owners

As much as 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

Despite positive reform in 2015, Montana’s civil forfeiture laws earn a D- due to the hefty profit incentive they create for law enforcement agencies to seize property. Montana law now requires a criminal conviction to forfeit property. Then, the government must prove the property is tied to that crime in civil court by clear and convincing evidence. Further, the 2015 reform shifted the innocent owner burden to the government. Innocent owners no longer have to prove their own innocence to win their property back. However, Montana’s law grade takes a major hit because of the substantial incentive given to law enforcement to seize. Local law enforcement retains up to 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds. State law enforcement agencies also retain up to 100 percent of proceeds, but when the value of property seized and forfeited exceeds $125,000, any excess proceeds must be divided equally between a state forfeiture fund and the state general fund.

There is no way of knowing the scope of forfeitures conducted under Montana state law because law enforcement agencies are not required to track or report on their forfeiture activity.

State Law Sources

Standard of proofClear and convincing evidence and a criminal conviction are required to forfeit property.
Mont. Code Ann. § 44-12-207(1).
Innocent owner burdenGovernment must disprove innocent owner claim by clear and convincing evidence.
Mont. Code Ann. § 44-12-211; see also id. § 45-9-206.
Profit incentiveUp to 100 percent. When forfeiture money goes to the state, however, annual proceeds in excess of $125,000 must be divided equally between the general fund and a state forfeiture fund.
Mont. Code Ann. § 44-12-213.
Reporting requirementsNone

Montana ranks 11th for federal forfeiture, with over $5.5 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

Montana law enforcement agencies do not extensively participate in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program, earning the state 11th place in a nationwide ranking. Between 2000 and 2013, Montana agencies received more than $5.5 million in equitable sharing proceeds, an annual average of nearly $400,000 per calendar year. The vast majority of those proceeds—85 percent—resulted from joint task forces and investigations, the type of equitable sharing activity 2015 DOJ rules did little to reform. During this period, adoptions have accounted for as much as 47 percent and as little as zero percent of proceeds; on average, they account for 15 percent of equitable sharing proceeds. It is therefore unlikely that the DOJ policy change will have a major impact on Montana agencies’ participation in the program. From 2000 to 2013, Montana law enforcement agencies also received more than $1 million in Treasury Department equitable sharing proceeds, averaging over $78,000 per fiscal year.on across the 2000 to 2013 fiscal years, averaging almost $325,000 a year.

(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
Average Per Year$396,293$78,286