Beginning next year, new limits will be put in place to help ensure citizens aren’t unjustly stripped of their property or cash under Minnesota’s controversial forfeiture law. Lawmakers on both sides have pushed for a compromise to the current arraignment, which allows police to seize property even if the individual in question isn’t charged with a crime.
Major Changes Eyed
Lawmakers are eyeing big changes to a forfeiture system that appears broken from the outside. Last year, a report on forfeitures in Minnesota by the nonprofit Institute for Justice gave the state a “D” grade based on a number of factors, many of which disproportionately affected poorer people. One of the biggest takeaways from that report was the half of all cash seizures were for less than $600.
“What we were finding was that most of the forfeitures were really small dollar amounts and weren’t these ‘kingpin’ types of cases,” said State Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, who authroed a House bill calling for reform. One of the changes sought is to block police from taking any amount of cash that is less than $1,500.
Other changes that have been proposed in the new bill include:
- Adding additional restrictions as to when police can seize a person’s vehicle.
- Streamlining the process by which a person can challenge a seizure in court.
- Law enforcement agencies will be required to report how they spend money collected through state and federal forfeitures.
Julia Decker, policy director for ACLU of Minnesota, said police encounters that involve property forfeitures can have long-last consequences for individuals, and the process needs to better protect individuals form the long arm of the law.
“Many people have encounters with police that are not deadly but do have incredibly deep and long-lasting impacts on their lives,” Decker said. “When you potentially get pulled over by the police for something that may feel relatively minor, there is always the prospect that your property can be seized.”
To get a better sense of just how much is being seized by law enforcement, a Local 5 INVESTIGATES review of statewide data found that police agencies seized nearly 14,000 vehicles, generating close to $10 million for those departments over a three-year span. Oftentimes, even when the property owner didn’t end up facing charges, it took extensive time, effort and resources to get their property returned. Lawmakers are hoping these changes help to better serve the public.
The changes put forth in the bill will officially go into effect in 2022.