Rauner Signs Broadly Supported Civil Forfeiture Protections Into Law

Posted on September 23, 2017

 Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law (HB303) restricting civil forfeiture practices of law enforcement agencies in the state. The newly enacted regulations, which CCDBR profiled previously, raise the evidentiary threshold for seizing citizens’ property from “probable cause” to “preponderance of the evidence,” protect cash below a certain threshold from seizure, and eliminate the “bond cost” of 10% of the confiscated property’s value required to initiate court proceedings for citizens to secure its return. The statute also requires police departments to regularly disclose the funding which they derive from civil forfeiture and the expenditures made with that funding.  In effect the new law will restore a measure of due process and reduce the disproportionate impact of civil forfeiture on people with limited income and legal resources.

Under civil forfeture law enforcement seizes property discovered in a legal search which they reasonably believe would or could be used in a crime, leaving the property‚Äôs owner with an immense legal burden to secure its return. While the protections established in the Illinois law are relatively modest, they represent an encouraging first step in reining in the practice of civil forfeiture, and demonstrate the willingness of legislators across the political spectrum to curb police abuses. 

To curtail state efforts to restrict law enforcement’s ability to seize assets, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in July that the US Department of Justice would reinstate the Equitable Sharing Program, which allows police to arbitrarily transfer civil forfeiture funds to federal jurisdiction, and receive 80% of those funds back from the federal government. This program, in practice, allows local law enforcement to circumvent regulation by passing civil forfeiture funds to the federal government and have the majority of it injected back into the local police coffers (without, in many cases, documenting it in the budget). However, as CCDBR also covered previously, the US House of Representatives successfully approved an appropriations bill amendment, put forward by Representative Justin Amash, barring the Justice Department from expending any funds for use by the Equitable Sharing Program. The appropriations bill has since passed the House by a vote of 211-198. 

As things currently stand, the Justice Department has reintroduced a means of circumventing Illinois’s newly passed civil forfeiture regulations, and other state and municipal laws like it, but promising efforts are underway in Congress to thwart this move by the Justice Department. Even so, the new state law will undoubtedly exert pressure on local law enforcement to dissuade them from embracing the Justice Department’s offer, and with any luck this offer will not be available for long if Amash and his allies in the House and Senate have their way. 

You can read the full report from Capitol Fax here