What happens in civil asset forfeiture?

Among the more controversial laws in the United States, civil asset forfeiture laws dictate how police officers can seize property from private citizens. State laws determine the specifics of asset forfeiture and rarely require guilt.

Illinois is no different, though its laws vary in some subtle ways. Understanding how the police may seize one’s property can go a long way toward making sure it does not happen.

Specifics of Illinois asset seizure

Most civil asset forfeitures occur when a police officer suspects a relation to organized crime or illegal drug activity. This mentality casts a wide net for many law enforcement agencies during routine traffic stops or walking a beat. Citizens rarely see their assets returned either, even without a conviction of a crime. In Illinois, police departments collect 90% of the proceeds from these forfeitures, leading many to criticize the practice as “policing for profit.”

In recent years, many states have passed laws to reform their asset forfeiture policies. In 2017, Illinois passed the Seizure and Forfeiture Reporting Act. This act outlines rules for reporting asset forfeitures to the Attorney General’s office in an effort for increased transparency. Before the act, police in Illinois could seize someone’s entire car after finding drug residue in a person’s pocket. Still, some critics argue the act does not go far enough in preventing excessive seizures. The ACLU and other groups believe that asset forfeiture should require a criminal conviction in all cases, an item the Illinois reform does not include.

In cases where the police seize property worth less than $150,000, forfeiture is still automatic, but residents may file a claim to get their property back. In these cases, the police must prove the property’s involvement in a crime. Illinois residents must otherwise prove they didn’t know about the crime, nor did they seek to help the criminal.

Consult with a local attorney

An Illinois attorney familiar with criminal law and asset forfeiture can help Illinois residents assess an asset forfeiture claim. They can answer any questions an individual may have and help them decide next steps.