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New Jersey

New Jersey

New Jersey 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 to contested forfeitures of cash worth less than $1,000 or other property worth less than $10,000, putting the burden on owners to engage in a costly legal battle to win back low-value property. On the other hand, it precludes forfeiture when criminal charges related to the property seizure are never filed against a person (not necessarily the owner) or prosecutors fail to establish the person’s criminal culpability. Once the conviction provision is satisfied, property must be linked to the crime by preponderance of the evidence.

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: 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement when forfeiture is pursued by local agencies; 95% when forfeiture is pursued by the attorney general.

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

  • (2020) A4970: Created weak conviction provision.
  • (2020) A3442/S1963: Adopted IJ’s model reporting legislation, giving New Jersey one of the best forfeiture transparency laws in the country.

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

State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019

Between 2009 and 2019, New Jersey law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $166 million under state law. Between 2000 and 2019, they generated an additional $183 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $349 million in forfeiture revenue. New Jersey ranks 37th 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 $349 million in state and federal forfeiture revenue
2000–2019

Year New Jersey Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total
2000 Unknown $4,809,223 $5717,000 $10,526,223
2001 Unknown $3,211,799 $1,830,000 $5,041,799
2002 Unknown $755,923 $172,000 $927,923
2003 Unknown $1,158,130 $2,161,000 $3,319,130
2004 Unknown $2,757,000 $2,757,000 $5,514,000
2005 Unknown $3,422,390 $3,021,000 $6,443,390
2006 Unknown $2,548,731 $2,453,000 $5,001,731
2007 Unknown $5,699,340 $997,000 $6,696,340
2008 Unknown $5,969,112 $2,371,000 $8,340,112
2009 $24,851,916 $8,457,668 $1,822,000 $35,131,584
2010 $15,542,095 $5,884,673 $7,893,000 $29,319,768
2011 $14,339,481 $7,845,680 $5924,000 $28,109,161
2012 $20,719,371 $8,680,714 $3,843,000 $33,243,085
2013 $16,508,255 $9,755,408 $3,187,000 $29,450,663
2014 $15,815,834 $12,258,703 $5941,000 $34,015,537
2015 $8,846,015 $6,326,020 $2,955,000 $18,127,035
2016 $12,439,008 $5,716,987 $673,000 $18,828,995
2017 $17,086,431 $8,214,514 $2,019,000 $27,319,945
2018 $14,538,243 $10,839,580 $929,000 $26,306,823
2019 $5,592,560 $10,720,234 $1,634,000 $17,946,794
Totals $166,279,209 $125,031,829 $58,299,000 $349,610,038

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

New Jersey's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

A

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

A

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

C

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

A

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

B*

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

A

At the time of publication, spending and statewide reports required by the 2020 reform were not yet available and were therefore not graded in the print report. The online grades are based on reporting statutes and are subject to change as new information becomes available. Accordingly, they may not match the print report.

* Agencies must file even when they have nothing to report.

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

Forfeitures Under New Jersey Law: Key Facts

Median Value

UNKNOWN

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

Property Types

UNKNOWN

New Jersey does not report the types of property forfeited.

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

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

Expenditures

UNKNOWN

New Jersey does not report how forfeiture funds are spent.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

Forfeiture reports were obtained from the New Jersey Attorney General’s website and via public records requests to each county prosecutor. All figures are in calendar years and represent the AG’s cash forfeited and disbursed to law enforcement as well as the DA’s cash forfeited and value of forfeited property. One county failed to provide records for 2014 through 2018. 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 precludes forfeiture when criminal charges “related to the property seizure” are never filed against a person (not necessarily an owner) or prosecutors fail to establish “criminal culpability” of any person. The provision applies only to contested forfeitures of low-value property ($1,000 or less for cash and $10,000 or less for other property). After the conviction provision is satisfied, property must be linked to the crime by a preponderance of the evidence.

N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:64-3(e), -3(k)(1)–(2); State v. Seven Thousand Dollars, 642 A.2d 967, 975 (N.J. 1994); State v. $2,293 in U.S. Currency, 95 A.3d 260, 266 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2014).

Innocent owner burden: Owner.

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:64-5(b); State v. Seven Thousand Dollars, 642 A.2d 967, 974 (N.J. 1994).

Financial incentive: 100% when forfeiture is pursued by local law enforcement; 95% when forfeiture is pursued by the attorney general.

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:64-6(a), (c).

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