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Sidebar: Despite Progress, Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Remain Limited

IJ’s Forfeiture Transparency & Accountability report cards grade each state, D.C., DOJ and Treasury on six key elements of forfeiture transparency and accountability. Few states earn high marks across the board: Only Arizona receives all As and Bs. At the other end of the spectrum, Alaska, Montana and North Carolina receive all Fs—reflecting a complete lack of transparency. Many other states receive mostly Ds and Fs. The following tables summarize how states perform on each element.

Tracking Seized Property

Tracking key details about seized property, as well as related forfeiture and criminal cases, allows officials to responsibly manage property and properly evaluate forfeiture programs.

Grade Number of Details Tracked States and Federal Departments State/Dep’t Counts
A+ 20 Arizona 1
A 18–19 New Jersey 1
A- 17 Kansas, DOJ 2
B+ 16 Vermont 1
B 14–15 Alabama, Colorado, Oregon, Virginia 4
B- 13 Michigan, North Dakota 2
C+ 12 Idaho, Minnesota, Utah 3
C 8–11 Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wyoming, Treasury 17
C- 7 Arkansas, Washington 2
D+ 6 Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota 3
D 4–5 California, D.C., Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas 9
D- 3 Kentucky, New Mexico, Wisconsin 3
F 0–2 Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina 5

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

Specifying the purpose of forfeiture fund expenditures promotes legislative oversight and responsible management of public funds.

Grade Number of Spending Categories Tracked States and Federal Departments State/Dep’t Counts
A 9–10 Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming 12
B 7–8 Pennsylvania 1
C 4–6 Illinois, Ohio, Virginia, DOJ, Treasury 5
D 2–3 Nevada, New York 2
F 0–1 Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington 26
N/A Agencies not permitted to spend forfeiture revenue D.C., Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina 5

Note: New Jersey and West Virginia are excluded because their reports are not yet available.

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

Statewide (or department-wide) forfeiture reports make it easier to evaluate forfeiture programs. The best reports provide (1) agency-by-agency data about (2) both seizures and forfeiture fund spending, (3) are compiled annually and (4) are submitted to the legislature.

Grade Number of Criteria Met States and Federal Departments State/Dep’t Counts
A 4 Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, DOJ 12
B 3 Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Wyoming, D.C., Treasury 19
C 2 Indiana, Kentucky, South Dakota 3
D 1 Texas 1
F 0 Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin 15

Note: Alabama, North Dakota and New Jersey are excluded because their new reports are not yet available.

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

Laws requiring that forfeiture reports and other records be published online make forfeiture information easily accessible to legislators and the public.

Grade States and Federal Departments State/Dep’t Counts
A Required by law to be published online Alabama, Colorado, D.C., Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, DOJ, Treasury 21
B Published online, although not required to be Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Wisconsin 13
C Designated by law as public records subject to freedom-of-information requests Arkansas, Delaware, Ohio, South Carolina 4
D Known to exist, but not explicitly designated as public records Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming 12
F No known records Alaska, Montana, North Carolina 3

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

Strict penalties for failure to file required forfeiture reports and to do so on time are more likely to induce agency compliance.

Grade States and Federal Departments State/Dep’t Counts
A Forfeiture funds withheld until report filed and agency fined for late filing Georgia 1
B Forfeiture funds withheld until report filed Arizona, Arkansas*, Delaware, Kansas*, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey* 7
C Agency fined or forced to pay for audit Colorado*, Florida*, Missouri, Texas* 4
D Agency identified in statewide report for failure to file California, Maryland*, Michigan*, Nevada*, Pennsylvania, Utah 6
F None Alabama, D.C., Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana*, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska*, New Hampshire, New Mexico*, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia*, Washington*, West Virginia*, Wisconsin, Wyoming, DOJ*, Treasury* 26
Incomplete No reporting requirements to enforce Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota 9

* Indicates agencies must file even when they have nothing to report. Such “null” reports enable oversight bodies to identify agencies that
are failing to comply.

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

Regular independent audits ensure greater integrity in accounting for forfeiture revenue and spending.

Grade States and Federal Departments State/Dep’t Counts
A Annual or biennial independent audit Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, DOJ, Treasury 11
B Annual or biennial internal audit Michigan 1
C Subject to independent audit at government oversight body’s discretion California, Georgia, New York, Virginia, West Virginia 5
D Subject to internal audit at government oversight body’s discretion Louisiana 1
F None Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming 30
N/A All forfeiture proceeds directed to a general fund D.C., Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina 5

 

See ij.org/TransparencyReportCards for the full report cards and grading methods.

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