Policing for Profit
Utah earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws
Higher bar to forfeit property, but no conviction required
Stronger protections for innocent third-party property owners
100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement
State Forfeiture Laws
Utah’s civil forfeiture laws have some good points, but they still earn a D- due to the outrageous incentive they provide law enforcement to police for profit. Utah’s standard of proof is better than most, requiring law enforcement agencies to tie property to a crime by clear and convincing evidence, but this standard still falls short of the standard applied in criminal proceedings—proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The government also bears the burden of disproving an innocent owner claim. However, these above-average provisions are undercut by the tempting incentive Utah gives law enforcement to seize property: Agencies may retain 100 percent of all forfeiture proceeds.
Utah’s laws also contain no reporting requirements, only mandating that agencies maintain an inventory of seized and forfeited property. The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice has a policy requiring agencies to liquidate forfeited assets and deposit them into a state Criminal Forfeiture Restricted Account to be spent on various law enforcement projects. The Institute for Justice obtained reports of forfeiture proceeds from the CCJJ by filing a request under the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act. Data show that Utah agencies reportedly forfeited more than $10 million between 2009 and 2014, averaging nearly $1.7 million per fiscal year.
State Law Sources
|Standard of proof||Clear and convincing evidence.|
Utah Code Ann. § 24-4-104(6).
|Innocent owner burden||Government.|
Utah Code Ann. § 24-4-107(2).
|Profit incentive||100 percent.|
Utah Code Ann. §§ 24-4-115 to -117.
|Reporting requirements||Agencies are required to maintain an inventory of seized property.|
Utah Code Ann. § 24-2-103(2)(b).
Utah ranks 12th for federal forfeiture, with over $11 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.
State Forfeiture Data
|Year||Reported Forfeiture Proceeds|
|Average per year||$1,682,533|
Federal Equitable Sharing
Law enforcement agencies in Utah made less use of the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program than did agencies in most other states, ranking 12th nationally. Between the 2000 and 2013 calendar years, Utah agencies received more than $11 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds. A large majority of assets seized and proceeds received—94 and 82 percent, respectively—derived from joint task forces and investigations, procedures largely unaffected by the DOJ’s new policy intended to rein in equitable sharing. Utah agencies also received more than $1.7 million in Treasury Department equitable sharing proceeds between the 2000 and 2013 fiscal years.
|Average Per Year||$804,463||$122,286|