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District of Columbia

District of Columbia

District of Columbia earns a B+ for its civil forfeiture laws:

Standard of Proof

Somewhat higher bar to forfeit some property: For motor vehicles, real property and currency up to $1,000, prosecutors’ standard is clear and convincing evidence. A very weak conviction provision requires conviction of the owner when a person’s primary residence is at stake. For all other property, the standard is preponderance of the evidence.

Innocent Owner Burden

Stronger protections for the innocent: The government must prove third-party owners knew about criminal activity connected to their property.

Financial Incentive

No profit incentive: All forfeiture proceeds go to the general fund.

The letter grade reflects the state’s forfeiture laws as of December 2020. When we become aware of relevant reforms, we are updating the standard of proof, innocent owner burden and financial incentive language above, but we are not updating the letter grade.

Recent Reforms

  • None.

Recommendations

  • End civil forfeiture
  • Fully close the equitable sharing loophole
  • Strengthen transparency and accountability requirements

State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019

From 2010 to 2012 and 2015 to 2018, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department forfeited nearly $5 million under District law. Between 2000 and 2019, it generated an additional $7 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $12 million in forfeiture revenue. The District of Columbia ranks 7th for its participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. In 2015, D.C. prohibited federal adoption of locally seized property for equitable sharing

At least $12 million in District and federal forfeiture revenue
2000–2019

Year District of Columbia Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total
2000 Unknown Unavailable $228,000 $228,000
2001 Unknown Unavailable $27,000 $27,000
2002 Unknown Unavailable $70,000 $70,000
2003 Unknown Unavailable $152,000 $152,000
2004 Unknown Unavailable $204,000 $204,000
2005 Unknown Unavailable $124,000 $124,000
2006 Unknown Unavailable $321,000 $321,000
2007 Unknown Unavailable $187,000 $187,000
2008 Unknown Unavailable $171,000 $171,000
2009 Unknown $506,882 $206,000 $712,882
2010 $1,894,278 $670,749 $28,000 $2,593,027
2011 $1,271,889 $531,940 $63,000 $1,866,829
2012 $1,648,599 $866,809 $83,000 $2,598,408
2013 Unknown $357,847 $11,000 $368,847
2014 Unknown $771,427 $21,000 $792,427
2015 $15,787 $385,950 $2,000 $403,737
2016 $23,518 $189,247 $34,000 $246,765
2017 $700 $673,004 $77,000 $750,704
2018 $25,996 $774,868 $8000 $808,864
2019 Unavailable Unavailable $0 $0
Totals $4,880,767 $5,728,723 $2,017,000 $12,626,490

All revenue figures include both civil and criminal forfeitures. Revenues are not adjusted for inflation. Different state revenue sources for 2010–2012 and 2015–2018.

District of Columbia's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

D

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

N/A

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

B

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

A

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

F

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

N/A

These grades are not applicable as the District of Columbia does not permit law enforcement agencies to spend forfeiture revenue.

For full transparency and accountability grades, visit www.ij.org/TransparencyReportCards.

Forfeitures Under District of Columbia Law: Key Facts

Median Value

UNKNOWN

The District of Columbia does not report property-level data necessary to calculate median forfeiture value.

Property Types

UNKNOWN

The District of Columbia does not report the types of property forfeited.

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

The District of Columbia does not report whether forfeitures are processed under civil or criminal forfeiture law.

Expenditures

N/A

The District of Columbia does not permit law enforcement agencies to spend forfeiture revenue.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

Calendar-year reports for 2010 through 2012 were obtained via public records request to MPD. MPD did not provide records in response to a request for 2013 and 2014 forfeiture records. Fiscal-year records for 2015 through 2018 are from reports on the D.C. Council’s Legislative Information Management System website. Equitable sharing data are from DOJ’s and Treasury’s annual forfeiture reports. Due to differences in reporting and accounting practices, figures may not match aggregate numbers produced by the District or cover the same 12-month period as the federal data.

Legal Sources

Standard of proof: In general, preponderance of the evidence. The standard of proof increases to clear and convincing evidence for vehicles, real property and currency up to $1,000. Weak conviction provision requires conviction of “an owner,” but only for contested forfeitures of a primary residence.

D.C. Code §§ 41-308(d)(1), (4), -302(c); see id. § 41-305(c) (procedure when uncontested).

Innocent owner burden: Government.

D.C. Code §§ 41-302(b), -308(d)(1).

Financial incentive: No financial incentive. All currency and proceeds from sales of forfeited property must be deposited in the general fund.

D.C. Code § 41-310(a)(2)–(3).

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