Policing for Profit

Oregon earns a C+ for its civil forfeiture laws

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

Stronger protections for innocent third-party property owners

As much as 62.5% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

Oregon’s civil forfeiture laws provide property owners with some protections, earning the state a C+ law grade. Oregon law requires a criminal conviction for civil forfeiture. Once the government wins a conviction, it must then link property to the crime in civil court to justify its forfeiture. In the civil proceeding, the standard of proof for most types of property is just preponderance of the evidence, though the standard is slightly higher for real property, such as a home or piece of land. In most cases, the government bears the burden of disproving an innocent owner claim, unless money or weapons are found in close proximity to drugs; in such cases, owners bear the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the property neither derived from nor played a part in a drug crime. Finally, Oregon agencies get to keep 62.5 percent of forfeiture proceeds when a case is brought by local law enforcement, and 57 percent when a case is brought by a state agency. These percentages are lower than those of most other states, but they still represent a sizable incentive to seize.

Oregon law enforcement agencies are required to report details of seized and forfeited property to the Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory Committee, which aggregates the data and publishes annual reports online. However, data are missing for 2009 and 2012 because the AFOAC did not have adequate funding to collect and compile reports during those years—even though forfeiture proceeds may have averaged more than $1 million annually between 2009 and 2013. Available data indicate that Oregon law enforcement agencies reportedly forfeited $5.2 million over the years 2010, 2011 and 2013. Unlike every other state except for Connecticut, Oregon reports civil and criminal forfeiture proceeds separately; civil forfeitures accounted for 58 percent of proceeds.

State Law Sources

Standard of proofA criminal conviction is required for all civil forfeitures. Preponderance of the evidence applies to personal property; clear and convincing evidence applies to real property.
Or. Rev. Stat. § 131A.255(1), (3).
Innocent owner burdenGovernment, except in cases where cash, weapons or negotiable instruments were found in close proximity to drugs, in which cases the owner bears the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the items are not the proceeds or instrumentalities of a drug crime.
Or. Rev. Stat. § 131A.255(2), (5).
Profit incentive62.5 percent when brought by local law enforcement; 57 percent when brought by the state.
Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 131A.360(4), (6), .365(3), (5).
Reporting requirementsAgencies are required to report forfeiture information to the forfeiture counsel, which is required to report every seizure and its final disposition to the Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory Committee. The committee must aggregate these reports and submit them to the Legislature.
Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 131A.450, 131.600, 131A.455(5).

Oregon ranks 14th for federal forfeiture, with over $16 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

State Forfeiture Data: Reported Forfeiture Proceeds

YearCase TypeCurrencyOther PropertyTotal
Grand Total$4,724,090$475,052$5,199,142
Average per year$1,574,697$158,351$1,733,047
Source: Reports of calendar-year civil and criminal forfeiture revenue obtained from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, either through its website for newer reports or through an Oregon Public Records Law request for older ones. The Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory Committee compiles data received from law enforcement agencies into aggregate reports, but it reportedly lacked funding to compile reports in 2009 and 2012.

Federal Equitable Sharing

Ranking 14th in the nation on equitable sharing, law enforcement agencies in Oregon made less use of the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program than did agencies in most other states. Between 2000 and 2013, agencies received over $16 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds, averaging almost $1.2 million per calendar year. Over 80 percent of assets seized and more than three-quarters of proceeds received resulted from joint task forces and investigations—the type of equitable sharing generally exempt from the DOJ’s new limits on the practice. Finally, Oregon law enforcement agencies also received $10.6 million in equitable sharing proceeds from the Treasury Department between the 2000 and 2013 fiscal years.

(calendar years)
(fiscal years)
Average Per Year$1,167,123$757,357