West Virginia earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws
Low bar to forfeit and no conviction required
Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement
State Forfeiture Laws
West Virginia has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country, earning a D-. In order to forfeit property, the government need only tie it to a crime by a preponderance of the evidence. Further, in order to have their property returned, innocent owners must prove their innocence of the criminal activity in which their property was allegedly involved. Finally, West Virginia law enforcement agencies have every reason to police for profit—they retain 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds.
Forfeiture reporting requirements in the Mountain State provide little to no internal accountability or public transparency. Law enforcement agencies are required to report the type, value and sale proceeds of all forfeited property to their respective budgetary authorities. However, these reports are not centralized at the state level, meaning that obtaining statewide forfeiture figures would require submitting West Virginia Freedom of Information Act requests to every local budgetary authority in the state. Even if one were to go to all that effort, the reports lack key details, such as breakdowns of civil versus criminal cases and accounting of forfeiture fund expenditures.
State Law Sources
Standard of proof
Preponderance of the evidence. W. Va. Code § 60A-7-705(e).
Innocent owner burden
Owner. W. Va. Code § 60A-7-703(a)(5)(ii), (7), (8).
100 percent. W. Va. Code § 60A-7-706.
Agencies are required to submit annual forfeiture reports to their local budgetary authorities. W. Va. Code § 60A-7-707(h).
West Virginia ranks 13th for federal forfeiture, with over $56 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.
State Forfeiture Data
No data readily available. While law enforcement agencies are required to make reports to their budgetary authorities, there is no requirement that those reports be centralized or made easily accessible to the public.
Federal Equitable Sharing
West Virginia ranks 13th for law enforcement agencies’ participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. Between 2000 and 2013, West Virginia agencies received $56.8 million in equitable sharing proceeds, though most of that came in a single year, 2007, when law enforcement in the state took in $39 million. Nearly all—97 percent—of those proceeds came from joint task forces and investigations, the type of equitable sharing that former Attorney General Holder’s new policy did little to change. West Virginia agencies also received nearly $2.5 million in Treasury Department equitable sharing proceeds between 2000 and 2013, averaging almost $178,000 per fiscal year.