Minnesota citizens can no longer be forced to permanently forfeit property without receiving a criminal conviction or admitting to guilt, according to a new law signed by Governor Dayton in May.
Known as “civil forfeiture,” the provision previously gave authorities the ability to force citizens to forfeit items in civil courts, even if they hadn’t been found guilty in criminal court.
The new bill known as SF 874 also places a new burden of proof on the government, according to a Forbes report. This means that citizens are no longer required to prove that their property wasn’t used in a crime in order for it to be returned. Now the government must provide such proof.
While the change seems to be common sense, its passage didn’t go without opposition. According to a report from the Star Tribune, the Minnesota County Attorneys Association had previously suggested the bill could keep more dangerous assets available to criminals.
“One of the challenges we have is we walk in the door with cocaine and $10,000 sitting on the table, with five guys saying ‘That’s not mine.’ Four of them get convicted, and the fifth guy says ‘That money was mine, I wasn’t convicted, give me the dough,’” stated MCAA Executive Director John Kingrey via the Star Tribune report.
Proponents and opponents of the bill, however, disagreed upon exactly what constituted a true criminal conviction in terms of forfeiture. For example, instances in which a deferred conviction occurred or a defendant pled guilty to a lesser charge were debated before the bill’s passage. But despite some disagreement, support was met with widespread approval. Overall, lawmakers in the state senate voted the law into effect by a margin of 55 to 5.
“No one acquitted in criminal court should lose his property in civil court. This change makes Minnesota’s law consistent with the great American presumption that a person and his property are innocent until proven guilty,” commented Lee McGrath, an executive director at the Institute for Justice’s Minnesota chapter via a Forbes report.
The new law will become official on August 1st. Meanwhile, similar reforms could be considered in other U.S. states where similar civil forfeiture laws remain.