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 the court can waive it if the owner does not contest the forfeiture or in other situations, including when the defendant has agreed to help investigators in exchange for immunity. Once the conviction provision is satisfied, property must be linked to the crime by clear and convincing evidence.
Stronger protections for the innocent: The government must prove third-party owners knew about criminal activity connected to their property.
No profit incentive: All forfeiture proceeds go to fund schools, though agencies can retain up to 50% to pay for forfeiture expenses.
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.
Most forfeitures under Wisconsin law have gone unreported; in 2018, Wisconsin law enforcement agencies forfeited at least $25,000 under state law. Between 2000 and 2019, they generated an additional $97 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $97 million in forfeiture revenue. Wisconsin ranks 25th for its participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. However, in 2018, the state prohibited agencies from receiving federal proceeds unless someone is convicted of the crime that gave rise to the seizure. Unfortunately, several exceptions undermine this reform.
At least $97 million in state and federal forfeiture revenue
|Year||Wisconsin Forfeiture Revenues||Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds||Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds||Total|
All revenue figures include both civil and criminal forfeitures. Revenues are not adjusted for inflation.
Wisconsin does not report property-level data necessary to calculate median forfeiture value.
Reported forfeitures were too few for further analysis.
Wisconsin does not report whether forfeitures are processed under civil or criminal forfeiture law.
Wisconsin expenditure data were not used for this report.
Property-level forfeiture reports are from the Wisconsin Department of Administration website. Figures represent forfeited currency and proceeds from sales of forfeited property. Only a few agencies filed reports for calendar year 2018, the first reporting period under the new reporting law, and reported forfeitures were too few for further analysis. 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.
Standard of proof: Weak conviction provision does not require conviction of an owner, but only of “a person,” and a court can waive the provision if the owner fails to contest forfeiture or in other situations, including when a defendant enters into an immunity agreement with prosecutors in exchange for assisting law enforcement. After the conviction provision is satisfied, property must be linked to the crime by clear and convincing evidence.
Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 961.55(1g), .555(2)(am),(3).
Innocent owner burden: Government.
Wis. Stat. § 961.555(5)(c), (e)–(f); cf. id. §§ 961.555(5)(b), (d), .56(1) (burden on owner with respect to establishing ownership).
Financial incentive: No financial incentive. All forfeiture proceeds go to fund schools. However, agencies can retain up to 50% of proceeds to pay for forfeiture expenses, for which they must provide an itemized report.
Wis. Const. art. X, § 2; Wis. Stat. § 961.55(5)(b), (e) (permitting seizing agencies to retain reasonable expenses).