Higher bar to forfeit property and conviction required
Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
45% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement
State Forfeiture Laws
In 2015, Vermont took one step forward and two steps back with its civil forfeiture laws, raising the government’s standard of proof to forfeit property while also creating a new incentive for law enforcement agencies to police for profit. Vermont’s laws, which earn a C grade, now require the government to provide clear and convincing evidence tying property to an owner’s conviction in criminal court before the property may be forfeited. Unfortunately, the General Assembly did not reform Vermont’s innocent owner burden—a third-party owner must still prove that she was not involved in the illegal use of her property in order to recover it. Last but not least, law enforcement can now retain 45 percent of forfeiture proceeds. Although this incentive is much lower than those in most other states, it is considerably worse than what Vermont had before: a statute mandating that all forfeiture proceeds be delivered to the state treasurer rather than to law enforcement coffers.
Vermont law requires law enforcement agencies to file reports of their controlled substances forfeitures with the state treasurer. When the Institute for Justice submitted a Vermont Public Records Law request to the Office of the State Treasurer in order to obtain forfeiture reports from 2009 to 2014, the treasurer’s office replied: “No such records, reports, or funds were sent to the Office of the State Treasurer during those years.” It was unclear at press time whether agencies failed to report because no forfeitures had occurred under state law or because agencies were out of compliance with reporting requirements.
State Law Sources
Standard of proof
Clear and convincing evidence and a criminal conviction are required for civil forfeiture. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 18, §§ 4243(a), (c), 4244(e).
Innocent owner burden
Owner. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 18, § 4244(d).
45 percent. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 18, § 4247(b)(1).
Agencies are required to submit reports of drug-related forfeitures to the state treasurer. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit 18, § 4248.
Email correspondence between Angela C. Erickson of the Institute for Justice and Tim Lueders-Dumont, public records officer in the Vermont Office of the State Treasurer (2015, June 15).
Vermont ranks 15th for federal forfeiture, with over $13 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.
State Forfeiture Data
No data available. Agencies are required to track and report their controlled substances forfeitures to the Office of the State Treasurer, but no such reports were received by that office between 2009 and 2014.
Federal Equitable Sharing
Vermont ranks 15th in a nationwide comparison of law enforcement agencies’ participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. Between 2000 and 2013, agencies received more than $13 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds, averaging nearly $929,000 per calendar year. Although 57 percent of assets seized were taken through adoptive forfeitures, 70 percent of proceeds received resulted from joint task forces and investigations—equitable sharing practices left largely intact by the 2015 DOJ policy change. Vermont agencies also received more than $4.2 million from the Treasury Department’s equitable sharing program, an average of over $302,000 per fiscal year.