JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Jan. 8, 2019) – A bill filed in the Missouri House would close a loophole allowing state and local police to circumvent stringent state asset forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the feds.

Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-St. Louis) filed House Bill 444 (HB444) on Jan. 4. The legislation would prohibit Missouri law enforcement agencies or prosecutors from entering into agreements to transfer seized property to a federal agency unless it includes more than $100,000 in cash.

A study found the average forfeiture to be less than $10,000, so passage of HB444 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.

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. As a result, state and local police often pass cases to the feds to avoid the more stringent state laws.

The situation in California was similar until recently. The Golden State state also has some of the strongest state-level restrictions on civil asset forfeiture in the country, but until the state closed the loophole, law enforcement agencies would often bypass the state restrictions by partnering with a federal asset forfeiture program known as “equitable sharing.”

This federal program allows state and local police to get around more strict state asset forfeiture laws in a vast majority of situations. Closing this loophole is particularly important in light of a policy directive issued in July 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Under these arrangements, state officials can simply hand over forfeiture prosecutions to the federal government and then receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds—even when state law banned or limited the practice. According to a report by the Institute for Justice, Policing for Profit, California ranked dead last of all states in the country between 2000 and 2013 as the worst offender. In other words, California law enforcement was passing off a lot of cases to the feds and collecting the loot. During the 2016 legislative session, the state closed the loophole.

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 in that time.

Passage of HB444 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.

Why?

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.

WHAT’S NEXT

HB44 will be officially introduced when the 2019 legislative session begins on Jan. 9 and it will receive a committee assignment at that time.


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