North Dakota recently scored an F for its civil asset forfeiture laws, according to the libertarian-leaning nonprofit Institute for Justice’s “Policing for Profit” survey. And it looks like lawmakers noticed.
Seizing assets using forfeiture is a legal prerogative of law enforcement agencies that was rationalized by the war on drugs. It allows authorities to take property if they believe it was used for a crime.
Although law enforcement agencies can expropriate property all over the U.S., North Dakota is an exceptional state when it comes to civil forfeiture. According to the Institute for Justice (IJ) report, North Dakota requires the most basic threshold of probable cause to seize valuables. It requires property owners to show beyond any doubt that they are innocent. The burden of proof lies on them whether or not they were aware of the alleged crime the property was used for.
This process, which some decry as cumbersome and unfair, has persisted for years. Under the guise of fighting or preventing drug-related incidents, authorities have seized assets that amount to millions of dollars. The lack of reporting from most agencies aggravates matters to a severe level. Most states don’t require their law enforcement agencies to keep and publicize records on forfeiture cases, revenue, and outcomes. Property rights activists have pointed out for years how the current system easily leads to abuse.
Lawmakers are finally starting to heed the call to pass more rigid rules for civil asset forfeitures. In North Dakota, House Bill 1480 was passed in congress with a unanimous vote of 46-1. This is historic for the state that had no previous record of law enforcement reports on asset seizures. HB 1480 requires detailed reports on forfeitures, specifically, the locale, court proceedings, and law enforcement records for annual filing.
Another monumental step forward happened last year when the attorney general filed the first report on civil assets forfeited from August 2019 to June 2020. This report complied with an earlier law passed in 2019, which was one of the first changes in the state’s forfeiture process.
These recent events show that state and legislative bodies are amenable to changing the status quo of civil asset forfeiture. After many years of authorities allegedly abusing forfeiture, there are finally some safeguards for ordinary citizens.
The bill is now in the hands of the governor, who will decide whether to pass or veto it. North Dakotans can only hope the governor stands with them and wants to provide better boundaries for asset seizures. The state has come a long way from its civil asset forfeiture past, but the laws of the state still have a lot to improve on.
Civil forfeiture is quite complex. Since it’s a civil matter, the “right to an attorney” does not apply. The state is not required to give property owners legal representation. Instead, victims of forfeiture will need to hire an expert in the field for assistance.
Nationwide Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has law enforcement taken your property using civil forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and get the assistance of a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney. There is no charge unless your case is successful.
Source: 3.31.21 New North Dakota forfeiture reporting requirements go to governor.pdf