New Jersey earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws
Low bar to forfeit and no conviction required
Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
As much as 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement
State Forfeiture Laws
New Jersey’s civil forfeiture laws are some of the worst in the country, earning a D-. In order to forfeit property, the government need only show by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was used in a crime. Innocent owners bear the burden of proving that they had nothing to do with the alleged criminal use of their property. Even worse, Garden State law enforcement enjoys a hefty financial incentive to seize: Local law enforcement agencies retain 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds. And when the state attorney general’s office brings a forfeiture case, it retains 95 percent of proceeds; the remaining five percent it deposits into the Hepatitis Inoculation Fund.
New Jersey agencies have no statutory requirement to track or report their forfeitures. However, it is the official policy of the Division of Criminal Justice that county district attorneys and local agencies report all forfeitures to the attorney general on a quarterly basis. The Institute for Justice submitted New Jersey Open Public Records Act requests to each of the state’s 21 counties and learned that New Jersey district attorneys forfeited roughly $72.6 million between calendar years 2009 and 2013, 79 percent of which came from cash forfeitures. These totals represent forfeitures conducted just at the county level, however—they do not reflect forfeitures conducted at the municipal or state level.
State Law Sources
Standard of proof
Preponderance of the evidence. State v. Seven Thousand Dollars, 642 A.2d 967, 975 (N.J. 1994); State v. $2,293 in U.S. Currency, 95 A.3d 260, 266 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2014).
Innocent owner burden
Owner. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:64-5(b); State v. Seven Thousand Dollars, 642 A.2d 967, 974 (N.J. 1994).
100 percent when forfeiture is pursued by local law enforcement; 95 percent when forfeiture is pursued by the attorney general. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:64-6(a), (c).
New Jersey ranks 36th for federal forfeiture, with over $70 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.
State Forfeiture Data: County District Attorney Forfeiture Proceeds
Average per year
Source: Reports of forfeitures supplied by county district attorneys in response to requests made under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act. These data are presented in calendar-year format and do not include the proceeds from several vehicles that were retained for official use and for which no value was given. The Institute for Justice also requested forfeiture reports from the Office of the Attorney General, which provided an incomplete set of reports. Requests for missing reports went unanswered. The Division of Criminal Justice also requires municipalities to report their forfeitures, but IJ did not request reports from each of these agencies.
Federal Equitable Sharing
Ranking 36th in the nation on equitable sharing, New Jersey law enforcement agencies made more use of the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program than did agencies in most other states. Between 2000 and 2013, agencies received $70.6 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds, averaging more than $5 million per calendar year. Almost all assets seized and proceeds received—97 percent in both cases—came from joint task forces and investigations, activity largely unaffected by the DOJ’s 2015 policy change. New Jersey law enforcement agencies also received over $38 million in equitable sharing proceeds from the Treasury Department, averaging more than $2.7 million per fiscal year.