President and General Counsel
||State Law Evasion Grade|| Final
|Minnesota law provides only slight protection for property owners against wrongful forfeitures, as its poor law grade of D shows. The state’s somewhat higher final grade reflects limited use of equitable sharing to date (an evasion grade of B). Although state statutes require that the government must show by clear and convincing evidence that the property is connected to drug trafficking and thus forfeitable, this burden is often easily met. This is because, in practice, few cases are tried. When they are, the owner is presumed guilty, bearing the burden of showing that he is an innocent owner. Law enforcement also receives as much as 90 percent of the value of forfeited property, thus providing a profit incentive to law enforcement to focus on civil forfeitures instead of other law enforcement duties. Nevertheless, as the numbers below indicate, Minnesota law enforcement has used forfeiture relatively modestly in recent years.
However, this changed in 2009. Then, the consequences of Minnesota’s lax forfeiture laws were on full display with a scandal involving the state’s Metro Gang Strike Force, accused of using its forfeiture power to improperly seize property. In some instances, officers have been alleged to keep the property for their own personal use.
1 The statute does not refer to an innocent owner defense. But inBlanche v. 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix, 599 N.W.2d 191 (1999), the court permits an innocent owner defense to be raised without establishing a burden of proof.
2 Specifically, 70 percent of the proceeds from common forfeitures go to the law enforcement agency, 20 percent go to the office of the prosecutor, and 10 percent go to the general governmental fund. Minn. Stat. § 609.5315.
3 Lore, M. (2009, September 18). Criminal defense attorneys seek more protections in forfeiture cases. Retrieved September 25, 2009, from http://www.minnlawyer.com/article.cfm/2009/09/21/Criminal-defense-attorneys-seek-more-protections-in-forfeiture-cases.
Arlington, Va.—It’s called policing for profit and it’s happening all across America. Minnesota has some of the worst laws in the country for encouraging this abuse. Under a practice called “civil forfeiture,” police and prosecutors’ offices seize private property—often without ever charging the owners with a crime, much less convicting them of one—then keep or…