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Wisconsin

Wisconsin

Wisconsin earns a A- 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 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.

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

No profit incentive: All forfeiture proceeds go to fund schools, though agencies can retain up to 50% to pay for forfeiture expenses.

Recent Reforms

  • (2018) AB 122/SB 61: Raised standard of proof; created weak conviction provision; shifted burden of proof from innocent owners to government; imposed modest limits on participation in federal equitable sharing; adopted new transparency requirements; required agencies to document expenses paid with forfeiture funds; required prosecutors to file criminal charges within six months or return seized property; established pretrial hearing for owners; created limited right to attorney fees for owners.

Recommendations

  • End civil forfeiture
  • Fully close the equitable sharing loophole
  • Strengthen transparency and accountability requirements

State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019

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
2000–2019

Year Wisconsin Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total
2000 Unknown $2,147,686 $108,000 $2,255,686
2001 Unknown $23,904,245 $31,000 $23,935,245
2002 Unknown $1,659,109 $821,000 $2,480,109
2003 Unknown $2,230,539 $0 $2,230,539
2004 Unknown $3,937,459 $38,000 $3,975,459
2005 Unknown $3,577,032 $90,000 $3,667,032
2006 Unknown $3,846,503 $99,000 $3,945,503
2007 Unknown $5,347,813 $837,000 $6,184,813
2008 Unknown $3,741,468 $852,000 $4,593,468
2009 Unknown $3,832,280 $3,070,000 $6,902,280
2010 Unknown $4,903,292 $182,000 $5,085,292
2011 Unknown $3,843,493 $89,000 $3,932,493
2012 Unknown $4,208,298 $319,000 $4,527,298
2013 Unknown $4,231,504 $121,000 $4,352,504
2014 Unknown $4,594,786 $74,000 $4,668,786
2015 Unknown $3,563,056 $207,000 $3,770,056
2016 Unknown $1,217,702 $655,000 $1,872,702
2017 Unknown $3,253,477 $78,000 $3,331,477
2018 $25,789 $3,128,744 $22,000 $3,176,533
2019 Unavailable $2,076,984 $162,000 $2,238,984
Totals $25,789 $89,245,470 $7,855,000 $97,126,259

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

Wisconsin's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

D-

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

A

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

F

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

B

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

F

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

F

Wisconsin law allows agencies to retain up to 50% of forfeiture proceeds to pay for forfeiture expenses. Agencies are required to report on this spending, but the state does not require audits of agency forfeiture funds.

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

Forfeitures Under Wisconsin Law: Key Facts

Median Value

UNKNOWN

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

Property Types

UNKNOWN

Reported forfeitures were too few for further analysis.

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

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

Expenditures

N/A

Wisconsin expenditure data were not used for this report.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

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.

Legal Sources

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).

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