Minnesota’s Courageous Reform of Civil Asset Foreiture Law

Five years ago scandal over the horrific abuse of Minnesota’s civil asset forfeiture law rocked the state. Their Metro Gang Strike Force (disbanded in the wake of the scandal) among others, grossly abused the power given them by the state’s civil forfeiture legislation, giving way to these reforms.

The Metro Gang Strike Force didn’t care who they stole from. Anyone was fair game for this corrupt band of legalized criminals. If they saw something they wanted they simply took it, leaving the victim of their predation at the mercy of a system tilted against them.

Evidence of crime? Why bother when the legislation allowed them to steal with impunity. To quote Jason Snead and Andrew Kloster’s article on the issue,

Minnesota residents became ATMs and their living rooms became convenience stores. After all, someone needed to finance strike force trips to Hawaiian conferences and supply agents with television sets.

But the whole scheme came crashing down. Amid federal and state investigations, the strike force was shut down and some $840,000 in settlements was paid out to those whose property had been wrongfully seized. Other legal actions netted millions in settlements.

Instead of the half-baked attempts at civil forfeiture reform in other jurisdictions Minnesota didn’t shrink from its duty to its citizens. It tackled civil asset forfeiture reform with courage and conviction, and did it properly.

Minnesota’s landmark civil forfeiture reform means police agencies can no longer victimize mere citizens at will and with impunity. As of now, law enforcement can no longer seize property from mere citizens unless there is either a criminal conviction or an admission of guilt.

While police may still profit from successful civil forfeitures, the new conviction requirement will add a layer of protection against the sort of evidence-less roadside shakedowns seen elsewhere. The state will also bear the burden of proving wrongdoing in any civil forfeiture case by clear and convincing evidence.

Kudos to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton for signing this into law the moment it hit his desk.

This reform turns civil forfeiture on its head; something long overdue. Current legislation in every other jurisdiction, including here in Canada, requires you to prove you did NOT do something, rather than requiring the State to prove you committed a crime.

Guilty until proven innocent is not the way western justice works. It’s the other way around.

Of course, forcing a person to prove they did not commit a crime makes it far easier for law enforcement… All that “innocent until proven guilty” crap takes far too much time and resources, right?

What we require now is for every other jurisdiction in North America to follow Minnesota’s lead.

If we are to stop the legalized theft of money and property from unwitting citizens for no reason whatsoever this simply must happen.


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