President and General Counsel
||State Law Evasion Grade|| Final
|Montana has terrible civil forfeiture laws. The state only requires probable cause to forfeit property. This is the lowest standard of proof the government must meet to prove your property is related to a crime. It is the same standard required for a search warrant and far lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard required for a criminal conviction. Moreover, once Montana seizes your property, you are presumed guilty, and you bear the burden of proving that either the property was not forfeitable or that the conduct giving rise to the seizure was without your knowledge or consent. Moreover, law enforcement receives 100 percent of the proceeds from forfeiture.News accounts reveal that almost half of some county prosecutors’ salaries are paid by funds from forfeiture accounts. The Montana State Bar issued an ethics opinion that found no conflict of interest despite an acknowledgement that the funds are often used to hire deputy prosecutors that assist the county prosecutor. The exact amounts and how these funds are used are difficult to determine, however, because there is no requirement that forfeiture data be reported.
In 2007, the Montana legislature considered reforming its civil forfeiture laws but rejected a bill that would have eliminated the profit incentive that law enforcement currently has. It would have also plugged the federal equitable sharing loophole that allows states to avoid state laws protecting property owners from wrongful forfeiture.
1 State Bar of Montana. (n. d.). Ethics opinion 960827. Retrieved September 25, 2009, from http://www.montanabar.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=131.
Arlington, Va.—It’s called policing for profit and it’s happening all across America. And Montana has some of the worse laws in the nation 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…