JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Dec. 8, 2017) – A bill prefiled in the Missouri House would close a loophole in most situations that allows state and local police to circumvent stringent state asset forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the feds.
Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-St. Louis) prefiled House Bill 1501 (HB1501) on Dec. 5. The legislation would prohibit Missouri law enforcement agencies or prosecutors from entering into agreements to transfer property seized through asset forfeiture to a federal agency unless it includes more than $100,000 in cash.
Passage of HB1501 would slam closed a loophole that allows state and local police to get around more strict state asset forfeiture laws in a vast majority of situations. This is particularly important in light of a new policy directive issued last July by Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Department of Justice (DOJ).
A federal program known as “Equitable Sharing” allows prosecutors to bypass more stringent state asset forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the federal government through a process known as adoption.The new DOJ directive reiterates full support for the equitable sharing program, directs federal law enforcement agencies to aggressively utilize it, and sets the stage to expand it in the future. However, when states merely withdraw from participation, the federal directive loses its impact.
Missouri has some of the best forfeiture restrictions in the country, according to the Institute for Justice. The state requires a criminal conviction before prosecutors can proceed with forfeiture, and law enforcement agencies don’t get a cut of the proceeds. But federal asset forfeiture standards are much lower. Law enforcement agencies often bypass more strict state forfeiture laws by claiming cases are federal in nature. Under these arrangements, state officials simply hand cases over to a federal agency, participate in the case, and then receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds.
Until recently, California faced a similar situation.The state has some of the strongest state-level restrictions on civil asset forfeiture in the country, but state and local police were circumventing the state process by passing cases to the feds. According to a report by the Institute for Justice, Policing for Profit, California ranked as the worst offender of all states in the country between 2000 and 2013. In other words, California law enforcement was passing off a lot of cases to the feds and collecting the loot. The state closed the loophole in 2016.
Like California, Missouri was also among the states with the highest level of federal forfeiture between 2000 and 2013, raking in $126 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds during that time.
Passage of HB1501 would close the loophole and significantly increase protections for Missouri property owners.
As the Tenth Amendment Center previously reported the federal government inserted itself into the asset forfeiture debate in California. The feds clearly want the policy to continue.
We can only guess. But perhaps the feds recognize paying state and local police agencies directly in cash for handling their enforcement would reveal their weakness. After all, the federal government would find it nearly impossible to prosecute its unconstitutional “War on Drugs” without state and local assistance. Asset forfeiture “equitable sharing” provides a pipeline the feds use to incentivize state and local police to serve as de facto arms of the federal government by funneling billions of dollars into their budgets.
HB1501 will be officially introduced and assigned to a committee when the 2018 legislative session begins on Jan. 3.