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Delaware

Delaware

Delaware earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws:

Standard of Proof

Low bar to forfeit: Once the government seizes property, the owner must prove by preponderance of the evidence that it is not connected to a crime.

Innocent Owner Burden

Poor protections for the innocent: Third-party owners must prove their own innocence to recover seized property.

Financial Incentive

Large profit incentive: Up to 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement.

Recent Reforms

  • (2016) HB 309: Made information about the Special Law Enforcement Assistance Fund eligible for release under Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, the SLEAF Committee decides which requests to approve. Moreover, Delaware’s FOIA does not guarantee access to records for non-citizens of the state.

Recommendations

  • End civil forfeiture
  • Direct all forfeiture proceeds to a non-law enforcement fund
  • Strengthen protections for innocent third-party owners
  • Close the equitable sharing loophole
  • Strengthen transparency and accountability requirements

State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019

Between 2017 and 2019, Delaware law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $4 million under state law. Between 2000 and 2019, they generated an additional $16 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $20 million in forfeiture revenue. Delaware ranks 13th for its participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. The state does not prevent state and local agencies from using equitable sharing to circumvent state forfeiture law.

At least $20 million in state and federal forfeiture revenue
2000–2019

Year Delaware Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total
2000 Unknown $449,374 $61,000 $510,374
2001 Unknown $461,175 $9,000 $470,175
2002 Unknown $422,941 $0 $422,941
2003 Unknown $173,222 $0 $173,222
2004 Unknown $606,678 $0 $606,678
2005 Unknown $791,700 $11,000 $802,700
2006 Unknown $130,302 $4,000 $134,302
2007 Unknown $478,764 $55,000 $533,764
2008 Unknown $813,464 $70,000 $883,464
2009 Unknown $520,031 $62,000 $582,031
2010 Unknown $663,934 $218,000 $881,934
2011 Unknown $1,129,733 $315,000 $1,444,733
2012 Unknown $1,113,015 $84,000 $1,197,015
2013 Unknown $500,724 $365,000 $865,724
2014 Unknown $2,573,778 $12,000 $2,585,778
2015 Unknown $331,134 $101,000 $432,134
2016 Unknown $1,200,737 $26,000 $1,226,737
2017 $1,575,401 $349,045 $66,000 $1,990,446
2018 $1,376,901 $1,310,269 $0 $2,687,170
2019 $1,176,260 $412,246 $11,000 $1,599,506
Totals $4,128,562 $14,432,266 $1,470,000 $20,030,828

All revenue figures include both civil and criminal forfeitures. Revenues are not adjusted for inflation.

Delaware's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

F

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

A

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

B

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

C

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

B

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

F

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

Forfeitures Under Delaware Law: Key Facts

Median Value

UNKNOWN

Delaware does not report property-level data necessary to calculate median forfeiture value.

Property Types

UNKNOWN

Delaware does not report the types of property forfeited.

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

Delaware does not report whether forfeitures are processed under civil or criminal forfeiture law.

Expenditures

UNKNOWN

Delaware expenditure data were not used for this report.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

Reports of fiscal-year forfeiture deposits to the Special Law Enforcement Assistance Fund were obtained via request to the Delaware Department of Justice. Deposits represent forfeited money and proceeds from sales of forfeited property and exclude interest. Equitable sharing data are from DOJ’s and Treasury’s annual forfeiture reports. Due to differences in reporting and accounting practices, state figures may not match aggregate numbers produced by the state or cover the same 12-month period as the federal data.

Legal Sources

Standard of proof: The government must show probable cause for the seizure, at which point a rebuttable presumption in favor of forfeiture arises. The owner can rebut that presumption by a preponderance of the evidence.

Del. Code Ann. tit. 16, § 4784(a)–(j); Del. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 71.3; Brown v. State, 214 A.3d 922, 926–27 (Del. 2019); Brown v. State, 721 A.2d 1263, 1265 (Del. 1998); In re One 1987 Toyota, 621 A.2d 796, 799 (Del. Super. Ct. 1992).

Innocent owner burden: Owner.

Del. Code Ann. tit. 16, §§ 4784(a)(7), 4785(a); Del. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 71.3(d); Brown v. State, 214 A.3d 922, 926–27 (Del. 2019); Brown v. State, 721 A.2d 1263, 1265 (Del. 1998).

Financial incentive: Up to 100%.

Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, §§ 4110–4111; id. tit. 16, § 4784(f).

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