Civil asset forfeiture dates back to the 1980s when law enforcement was looking for ways to combat drug trafficking. Property believed to be purchased through ill-gotten gains or connected in anyway to criminal activity was up for grabs.
Today, civil asset forfeiture continues to allow law enforcement on both the federal and state level to seize property such as cars, boats, and real estate believed to be tied to criminal deeds.
Wisconsin law allows officers to take and keep property even if there are no charges brought or a conviction secured. If an owner believes their property has been wrongfully seized, it is up to them to prove it – a time-consuming, legal rigmarole.
Of course, the current modus operandi has all the makings of civil rights abuse. Officers need only have a preponderance of evidence to seize property and, as it stands, law enforcement can keep a portion of the bounty – a troubling combo of ease and incentive.
The potential for abuse has lead state lawmakers to introduce a bipartisan bill that would overhaul the state’s civil asset forfeiture law. Proposed changes would allow property seizures only if there is a conviction, require forfeitures be proportional to the offense, and direct all proceeds of a seizure to the state’s education fund eliminating law enforcement’s cut.
The bill, still making its rounds through the legislative process, would also provide advance notice to property owners allowing them time to be heard by a judge while raising the burden of proof for law enforcement agencies.
Until the law catches up, those who are under investigation or arrested for a drug related offense may be subject to civil asset forfeiture in addition to other consequences depending on the circumstances. If you stand accused of a Wisconsin crime or have had your property seized, contact the criminal defense Law Offices Andrew C. Ladd LLC for immediate assistance today at 262-542-3900.