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Vermont

Vermont

Vermont earns a C- 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 does not require conviction of the owner, only of “a person,” and it does not apply if the person has agreed to forfeiture to avoid criminal charges. Once the conviction provision is satisfied, property must be linked to the crime by clear and convincing 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: 45% 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

  • None.

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 2000 and 2019, Vermont law enforcement agencies generated more than $16 million in forfeiture revenue from federal equitable sharing. Vermont ranks 12th 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 $16 million in federal forfeiture revenue
2000–2019

Year Vermont Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total Equitable Sharing Proceeds
2000 Unknown $488,454 $68,000 $556,454
2001 Unknown $824,938 $0 $824,938
2002 Unknown $701,553 $0 $701,553
2003 Unknown $956,841 $0 $956,841
2004 Unknown $919,259 $90,000 $1,009,259
2005 Unknown $1,023,538 $90,000 $1,113,538
2006 Unknown $978,247 $34,000 $1,012,247
2007 Unknown $842,834 $36,000 $878,834
2008 Unknown $995,851 $123,000 $1,118,851
2009 Unknown $607,576 $225,000 $832,576
2010 Unknown $1,620,842 $209,000 $1,829,842
2011 Unknown $520,559 $18,000 $538,559
2012 Unknown $935,429 $33,000 $968,429
2013 Unknown $1,060,974 $95,000 $1,155,974
2014 Unknown $525,190 $148,000 $673,190
2015 Unknown $652,237 $110,000 $762,237
2016 Unknown $446,981 $8000 $454,981
2017 Unknown $273,269 $7,000 $280,269
2018 Unknown $410,337 $0 $410,337
2019 Unknown $381,706 $87,000 $468,706
Totals $0 $15,166,615 $1,381,000 $16,547,615

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

Vermont's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

B+

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

F

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

F

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

D

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

F

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

F

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

Forfeitures Under Vermont Law: Key Facts

Median Value

UNKNOWN

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

Property Types

UNKNOWN

Vermont does not report the types of property forfeited.

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

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

Expenditures

UNKNOWN

Vermont does not report how forfeiture funds are spent.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

Records obtained from the Vermont State Treasurer were sparse and unusable. Equitable sharing data are from DOJ’s and Treasury’s annual forfeiture reports.

Legal Sources

Standard of proof: Weak conviction provision does not require conviction of an owner, but only of “a person.” The provision does not apply if the person agrees with prosecutors to avoid criminal charges in exchange for forfeiture of the property. After the conviction provision is satisfied, property must be linked to the crime by clear and convincing evidence.

18 Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 18, §§ 4243(a), (c), 4244(e).

Innocent owner burden: Owner.

Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 18, § 4244(d).

Financial incentive: 45%.

Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 18, § 4247(b)(1).

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