North Dakota earns an F for its civil forfeiture laws
Lowest 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
Along with Massachusetts, North Dakota has the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country, scoring an F. In North Dakota, law enforcement only needs to meet the lowest possible standard of proof—probable cause—to forfeit property. And when property has been used for illegal activity without the owner’s knowledge, the burden is on the owner to prove her innocence in order to recover it. Finally, North Dakota law enforcement agents operate under a particularly dangerous financial incentive: Agencies receive up to 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds up to $200,000. If the government’s forfeiture fund exceeds $200,000 over any two-year budget period, the excess must be deposited in the general fund—encouraging law enforcement agencies to adopt a use-it-or-lose-it mentality.
The story of Adam Bush illustrates the hazards these laws pose to property owners. In August 2013, Bush was charged with stealing a safe full of cash. A jury later found him innocent of any wrongdoing, and the state’s attorney even admitted the evidence against Bush was “highly circumstantial.” Nonetheless, county sheriffs were able to forfeit Bush’s alleged getaway car. Unfortunately, it is impossible to get a good picture of the extent of forfeitures in North Dakota because law enforcement agencies are not required to track or report their forfeitures.
State Law Sources
Standard of proof
The government’s burden is probable cause; an innocent owner’s burden is preponderance of the evidence. N.D. Cent. Code § 19-03.1-36.6; State v. One 2002 Dodge Intrepid Auto., 841 N.W.2d 239, 242 (N.D. 2013); State v. $44,140.00 U.S. Currency, 820 N.W.2d 697, 702 (N.D. 2012); but cf. N.D. Cent. Code § 19-03.1-36.2 (stating that the standard of proof in forfeiture proceedings is preponderance of the evidence).
Innocent owner burden
Owner. N.D. Cent. Code § 19-03.1-37(1).
Up to 100 percent. If the government’s forfeiture fund exceeds $200,000 over any two-year budget period, the excess must be deposited in the general fund. N.D. Cent. Code §§ 54-12-14, 19-03.1-36(5).
North Dakota is the 2nd best state for federal forfeiture, with $550,000 in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.
State Forfeiture Data
No data available. Law enforcement agencies are not required to track or report their forfeitures.
Federal Equitable Sharing
North Dakota has made such little use of the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program that the only state with a better track record is its neighbor South Dakota. Between 2000 and 2013, North Dakota law enforcement agencies received $550,000 in equitable sharing proceeds, averaging nearly $40,000 per calendar year. Just 75 assets were seized during this period, which averages out to five equitable sharing assets seized each calendar year. Eighty-seven percent of assets seized and 94 percent of proceeds received resulted from joint task forces and investigations, equitable sharing practices largely untouched by the DOJ policy intended to curb equitable sharing. North Dakota agencies also received almost $1.4 million in Treasury Department forfeiture funds between 2000 and 2013, averaging out to over $97,000 each fiscal year.