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| O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss Law

Can law enforcement take your personal property, sell it, and keep the proceeds? Under current North Dakota law, if law enforcement believes the property was used in a crime, this is legal. Regardless of whether a person is convicted of the crime alleged, police can seize the property. When law enforcement later sells the property, that agency keeps the proceeds from the sale. Police need only probable cause to forfeit property. Further, even if the owner does not know the property is used for illegal activity, the owner must prove his innocence to recover the property. For example, if someone is charged with robbing a bank and used his mother’s car to get away from the scene, law enforcement can seize his mother’s car. Even if the alleged bank robber is never convicted, law enforcement can keep the vehicle, sell it, and keep the money from the sale. Because it is civil forfeiture, as opposed to criminal forfeiture, many of the constitutional protections afforded to criminal defendants do not apply.
Recently, the North Dakota Legislature considered changing the forfeiture process through HB 1170. The bill recently passed in the North Dakota State House 50-42. HB 1170 would prevent the forfeiture of property unless the owner was convicted of a crime. Further, the bill would prevent law enforcement from receiving the proceeds. Instead, any sale of forfeited civil assets would go to the state’s general fund. The new bill also creates exceptions to assets that can be forfeited. These assets include “homesteaded real property, a motor vehicle of less than ten thousand dollars in market value, and United States currency totaling two hundred dollars or less.” By exempting these items, the legislature is probably ensuring no one becomes homeless or without transportation because of civil forfeiture rules. By changing the civil asset forfeiture laws, the legislature is seeking to safeguard due process for property owners and prevent improper use of forfeiture by law enforcement.
Essentially, property involved in crimes will be seized in the same way, but the change happens in the forfeiture process in the courts. Police could still seize the property, but an alleged criminal would not forfeit the property until a conviction. Depending on what the North Dakota Legislature decides, civil forfeiture laws could change significantly to benefit property owners throughout the state.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Scott Anderson
    Scott Anderson

    Hello and thanks for having a comment section. A situation arose over the weekend that involved a Chinese man that was stopped on I-94 because he had California license plates. No citations issued, no criminal charges, but they did seize the $37,000 cash he had with him. The income his wife had earned at her job for 8 months. The only way to get it back is to wait for BCI to process the paperwork, get it to Clerk of Court Cass County, wait for the response letter(if you do not respond within 20 days) you automatically lose. Talking with BCI gets you no where, as I think they are trying to hide what they have been doing for years. Only recourse now is to contact an attorney that will handle the case and appear before a judge to contest the seizure. What a waste of time, effort, and not to mention the additional expense incurred upon the victim. I am trying to find out WHY the police did not pursue the origin of the cash, not automatically assume it is drug money and force the victim to prove otherwise. Great injustice that needs to change, along with consequences for the offending law enforcement. Perhaps the legislature needs to hear from victims, or go through the process themselves to wake up to the problem they have allowed to continue.

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