This is the third post in a three-part series on civil forfeiture; view Part 1 or Part 2.
In the second post
in this series, we talked about how civil forfeiture is used by law enforcement agencies across the country. We also talked about the “equitable share” program that allows federal and state law enforcement to share the proceeds of civil forfeiture cases. In this post, we discuss Colorado’s recent reforms related to civil forfeiture and how police agencies in Colorado may soon be restricted in how they cooperate with the feds and share in forfeiture proceeds.
The Colorado legislature has recently enacted changes to the way it handles civil forfeiture cases, and is getting national attention for doing so. Senate Bill 17-1313
, which has been signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper, requires state and local law enforcement agencies authorized to effect civil forfeitures to make biannual reports specifying the information they have regarding their forfeiture cases, the amount of proceeds received from such cases, a categorization of the expenditure of the proceeds, and the retained balance of the forfeiture proceeds. In addition, the bill creates a searchable database where you can learn about the circumstances of each forfeiture, whether the local law enforcement was working with the feds, and what they plan on doing with the proceeds. These changes certainly will illuminate just how dependent Colorado law enforcement is on proceeds from civil forfeiture.
More importantly, Senate Bill 17-1313 aims to change the financial incentives surrounding civil forfeiture. Section 2 of the legislation states that for any Colorado law enforcement agency to take their cut of an “equitable share” case, the value of the confiscated property must exceed $50,000. This may not seem like much of a change, however, according to the first batch of data reported under the new law, the average value of an item of property or money seized as a civil forfeiture is $32,000. Thus, the average forfeiture conducted with the feds would yield no value to the local law enforcement agencies conducting the seizure. This legislation does not affect the ability for law enforcement to partner with the feds in dong forfeitures, or doing them on their own. The only change to the law, and it is a pretty significant one, is that law enforcement agencies are far more restricted on what they can take home and use in their budget from “equitable share” forfeitures.
The other big change is that that in a case with the feds, there must be a concurrently filed criminal charge in order for any money to get back to the locals. To put the importance of this change into perspective, 81 percent of forfeiture cases nationwide have no corresponding criminal case. Other minor changes in the law include that no proceeds of forfeited property may be used to purchase items for the seizing agency unless it is first approved by a committee.
These changes in Colorado law will drastically affect the number and nature of forfeiture cases in the future, however, those forfeiture actions that go forward will be taken even more seriously by the government, necessitating legal expertise in order to properly defend against them. The Eichner Law Firm has the personnel, including experienced trial attorneys, experts, and investigators, to give our clients the best possible outcome in any forfeiture action.