Last year, a report by an Iowa newspaper found issues with the way in which some law enforcement agencies throughout the state were using the criminal forfeiture laws. In some cases, police departments and sheriff’s offices were using forfeiture laws as a means of gathering cash to operate elements of their departments, and because of the way these laws function, they could practically “shakedown” citizens they stopped for any cash they discovered in their vehicle.
Forfeiture laws permit the state to take action against property, such as cars, real estate or cash, which they suspect as being the product of or involved with illegal activities, such as drug trafficking.
However, because of the breadth of these laws, they could also use them to take cash found when executing ordinary traffic stops. using a broken taillight or exceeding the speed limit as a pretext, they could stop a vehicle and ask to search the car.
If they discovered any cash, they would often allege that it had some connection to drugs and confiscate the cash. The party who lost the cash would then be required to sue for the return, and that litigation would often cost as much or more than the cash forfeited, meaning they often had to abandon any hope of retrieving their money.
Because the action is against the property, the prosecutors did not need a conviction or any proof of wrongdoing in order to keep the cash. A bill introduced in the Iowa Senate would change that and require a felony conviction to permit the forfeiture.
Unfortunately, the Senate committee only voted to study the issue and revisit it again next year.
Source: desmoinesregister.com, “Iowa Senate targets criminal asset forfeiture law,” William Petroski, February 17, 2016