Property Rights

Forfeiture Revenue for Fiscal Year 2014 Revealed

In a presentation to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee this week, a representative from the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice presented legislators with a report on how much money has been obtained through forfeiture for the past year.

There are two types of forfeiture: civil and criminal. The former involves seizing property from a person who has not been charged with—let alone convicted of—a crime. See here for more information.

CCJJ’s report this week combines both types of forfeiture into a single data point, making it impossible to distinguish how much property was seized under the objectionable civil form.

What we do learn from the report is that between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014, $848,204.44 was received from the federal government by police agencies throughout Utah under a federal “equitable sharing” program. When forfeitures are conducted through federal courts, where property owners have less protections than under state law, the federal government offers 80% of the seized proceeds to the law enforcement agency operating in the jurisdiction where the seizure occurred. The agency receiving the most revenue was the DEA Metro Narcotics Task Force which obtained $205,862.39 during the single year.

When compared to revenue from state forfeitures, this number doesn’t look so big. During the same time frame, law enforcement agencies throughout Utah seized over $2.5 million in assets.

While this type of aggregate transparency is beneficial, more granular information is needed to pinpoint potential problems within forfeiture actions and impose appropriate restraints and reporting requirements. That information, unfortunately, is not yet available.