Criminal Justice

Illinois Legislature Proposes to Reform State’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws

Civil asset forfeiture reform is a major topic in 2017. Many states are considering legislation that would replace civil asset forfeiture with criminal forfeiture. Illinois is currently addressing such reforms under the bipartisan leadership of Representatives Al Riley and Allen Skillicorn, who have introduced HB 468.

Civil asset forfeiture is a mechanism that government agencies use to disrupt criminal activity. However, under current Illinois law, there is little protection for property owners who are believed to be involved in criminal activity. According to the Institute for Justice report Policing For Profit, Illinois received a D- for its current state forfeiture laws. There is a low threshold that the government must meet in order to secure a judgment of forfeiture with no requirement to charge or convict an individual of a crime. There are also a lot of obstacles facing citizens who want to retrieve seized property. Innocent owners must also bear the burden of proving the property seized was not involved in criminal activity. In Illinois, state government agencies can retain 90% of all forfeited revenue, which creates an incentive for a particular government agency to seize property.

Currently, Illinois legislators have introduced multiple bills to remedy the problems of civil asset forfeiture. Both the House and Senate have introduced identical legislation that would improve reporting of seizures and forfeitures and create a searchable public database. SB 1578 and HB 689 would improve transparency by requiring all property seized to be included in a monthly report filed by agencies that seize and seek to obtain judgments of forfeitures and would amend how proceeds from contraband are distributed to government agencies. Most importantly, HB 468 would create the Asset Forfeiture Process and Private Property Protection Act. This law would replace civil asset forfeiture with criminal. It would allow government agencies to forfeit property only when the individual is convicted of a felony and the property or assets are traced to the commission of the crime.

The newly introduced legislation is a big step in the important reformation of state forfeiture procedures in Illinois. It is important to note that property rights of individual citizens are protected from government intrusion, but there are also mechanisms in place for law enforcement agencies to punish criminals. The ALEC model Asset Forfeiture Process and Private Property Protection Act is strikingly similar to the bill introduced by Rep. Riley and Rep. Skillicorn. The two are tackling the important issue of civil asset forfeiture reform, which has passed in numerous states over the past two years and is gaining momentum in Illinois.

In Depth: Criminal Justice

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