Policing for Profit

Iowa earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws.

Standard of Proof

Higher bar to forfeit in limited cases: Weak conviction provision falls short of criminal forfeiture (see “The Problem with ‘Conviction Requirements’”). It applies only if an owner contests forfeiture, putting the burden on owners to engage in a costly legal battle and making it easy for the government to forfeit without conviction. It does not require conviction of the owner, only of any person, and does not apply to property valued above $5,000. Once the conviction provision is satisfied, property must be linked to the crime by clear and convincing 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

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

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

  • (2017) SF 446: Raised standard of proof; created weak conviction provision; shifted burden of proof from innocent owners to government; adopted new transparency requirements.


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

State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019

Between 2000 and 2019, Iowa law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $54 million under state law and generated an additional $46 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $100 million in forfeiture revenue—averaging more than $5 million a year. Iowa ranks 8th 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 $100 million in state and federal forfeiture revenue

Year Iowa Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds
$0 ↦ $10,700,583
2000 $1,830,645 $725,201 $11,000
2001 $1,586,684 $385,477 $2,000
2002 $2,132,665 $454,855 $4,000
2003 $2,022,894 $3,606,690 $161,000
2004 $2,211,940 $3,429,906 $5,000
2005 $2,466,726 $1,497,974 $91,000
2006 $3,910,228 $2,261,349 $111,000
2007 $2,617,157 $1,770,877 $0
2008 $2,551,467 $1,577,120 $20,000
2009 $2,097,891 $8,598,692 $4,000
2010 $1,653,044 $3,775,561 $118,000
2011 $5,425,344 $4,101,795 $232,000
2012 $3,247,836 $1,834,790 $1,220,000
2013 $3,318,503 $2,481,399 $543,000
2014 $4,276,751 $1,529,016 $782,000
2015 $4,046,701 $1,870,722 $86,000
2016 $3,134,819 $413,565 $128,000
2017 $2,078,084 $463,866 $51,000
2018 $1,814,946 $1,024,532 $17,000
2019 $1,686,228 $846,601 $73,000
Totals $54,110,553 $42,649,988 $3,659,000
Department of Justice
All revenue figures include both civil and criminal forfeitures. Revenues are not adjusted for inflation.
Download Revenue Data

Iowa Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

C Tracking Seized Property
A Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending
F Statewide Forfeiture Reports
B Accessibility of Forfeiture Records
F Penalties for Failure to File a Report
F Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts
For full transparency and accountability grades, visit

Forfeitures Under Iowa Law: Key Facts

Median Value

From 2015 to 2019, half of Iowa’s currency forfeitures were worth less than $900.

Property Types

From 2000 to 2019, more than eight out of every 10 forfeitures in Iowa were of currency.

Civil vs. Criminal

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


Iowa expenditure data were not used for this report.

Data Notes

Property-level forfeiture proceeds data were obtained from the state of Iowa’s data portal and via public records request to the Iowa Attorney General. Proceeds are in fiscal years and represent only forfeited money and sales of real property. The AG does not track other property. 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: Weak conviction provision does not require conviction of an owner, but only “a conviction” of any person—and only for forfeitures of property worth less than $5,000 and only when a claim is filed. After the conviction provision is satisfied, prosecutors must show that the property is subject to forfeiture by clear and convincing evidence.

Iowa Code Ann. §§ 809A.1(4), 809A.12A(1), (1)(a), (1)(d), (8), 809A.13(7).

Innocent owner burden: Government.

Iowa Code §§ 809A.12(7), .13(7).

Financial incentive: 100%.

Iowa Code § 809A.17.