North Carolina

Policing for Profit

North Carolina earns a B+ for its civil forfeiture laws

Highest bar to forfeit property and conviction required

Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners

No forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

North Carolina has some of the best forfeiture laws in the country, earning a B+. State law requires the highest possible standard of proof in most cases: a criminal conviction and therefore proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in racketeering cases—those involving organized crime—property can be forfeited in civil court by a preponderance of the evidence. Also in racketeering cases, innocent owners bear the burden of demonstrating that they were in no way involved in the criminal activity associated with their property. North Carolina law provides no incentive for law enforcement agencies to police for profit, as all forfeiture proceeds must go to fund public schools.

North Carolina suffers from a severe lack of transparency and accountability on forfeiture: Law enforcement agencies are not required to report on their forfeitures. The Institute for Justice obtained records of forfeited property sold at auction by filing a North Carolina Public Records Law request with the North Carolina Department of Revenue. Those data indicate that law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $4.6 million worth of property—including a “cowboy lamp,” an Xbox 360 and a “red blanket”—between 2009 and 2013. However, that figure underreports total forfeiture proceeds because it does not include forfeited cash.

State Law Sources

Standard of proofIn general, forfeiture requires a criminal conviction.  However, civil forfeiture is available in racketeering cases, which are governed by a preponderance of the evidence standard.
N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 75D-5, 90-112; State ex. rel. Thornburg v. $52,029, 378 S.E.2d 1, 3–5 (N.C. 1989); State v. Johnson, 478 S.E.2d 16, 25 (N.C. Ct. App. 1996).
Innocent owner burdenIn the context of a racketeering forfeiture, the owner bears the burden.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75D-5(i); State ex. rel. Thornburg v. 1907 N. Main St., 384 S.E.2d 585, 586–87 (N.C. Ct. App. 1989).
Profit incentiveAll forfeiture proceeds must go to public schools.
N.C. Const. art. IX, § 7; State ex. rel. Thornburg v. 532 B St., 432 S.E.2d 684, 686–87 (N.C. 1993).
Reporting requirementsNone.

North Carolina ranks 42nd for federal forfeiture, with over $162 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

State Forfeiture Data: Proceeds from Sale of Forfeited Property

YearVehiclesOther PropertyTotal
Average per year$553,631$372,809$926,440
Source: Inventory of the sale value of forfeited property obtained through a North Carolina Public Records Law request made to the North Carolina Department of Revenue. These figures are organized by calendar year and do not include cash forfeitures.

Federal Equitable Sharing

North Carolina law enforcement agencies may not be able to profit from civil forfeiture under state law, but they have found another way to supplement their budgets through forfeiture: the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. Ranking 42nd in the nation on equitable sharing, law enforcement agencies in the Tar Heel State received more than $162 million in DOJ proceeds between the 2000 and 2013 calendar years. Over half of these proceeds—and 69 percent of all assets seized—were the result of adoptions, the equitable sharing procedure curbed by former Attorney General Holder. The remainder stemmed from joint task forces and investigations, the vehicle for equitable sharing that will continue largely unencumbered following the DOJ policy change. Finally, agencies received over $42 million from the Treasury Department’s equitable sharing program between 2000 and 2013, averaging more than $3 million per fiscal year.000 a year.

(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
Average Per Year$11,584,450$3,027,000