Iowa Seizes Property From 1,000 People A Year Without Proof Of Crime, Says Report

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Iowa law enforcement agencies seize private property from at least 1,000 people a year, often without any evidence of an involved crime, according to a Tuesday Newton Daily News analysis.

While the police practice can be a legitimate and effective means of curbing nefarious criminal activity, data shows that it may be getting out of hand.

Civil asset forfeiture, the custom where law enforcement confiscates property on the basis of suspicion of wrongdoing, has grown in popularity amongst police departments across the country.

“Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, however, with civil forfeiture, a property owner need not be found guilty of a crime—or even charged—to permanently lose her cash, car, home or other property,” the Institute for Justice’s (IJ) “Policing for Profit” report states.

Polk County, Iowa has gotten $18 million in seized cash since 1985, after 1,500 vehicles were commandeered and sold, reports the Newton Daily News. The official attorney of Polk County, John Sarcone, credits the increase in forfeiture incidents to an increase in both population and law enforcement activity.

“A lot of this revolves around the drug trade, and they’re making money off of people’s addictions and whatever other circumstances they have that leads them into using drugs. They shouldn’t profit from that,” Sarcone told Newton Daily News.

Iowa was given a low D grade in IJ’s report due to its level of civil forfeiture.

In Iowa, “under state law, the prosecutor must only show that the property is related to criminal activity and can be forfeited by a preponderance of the evidence,” the report reads.

“Once the prosecutor meets that burden, the burden is on the property owner to show his innocence, or in other words, that he did not know and could not have reasonably known of the conduct or that he acted reasonably to prevent the conduct giving rise to the forfeiture,” the report says.

An Iowa Senate bill intended to limit the practice was defeated in the sate’s legislative process this year.

“My main concern is that assets can be forfeited to the state without a person even being charged with a crime, and I think that runs afoul of the Constitution,” State Sen. Charles Schneider told Newton Daily News.

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Eric Lieberman