Criminal Justice

Iowa Places Limits on Civil Asset Forfeiture Practices

Iowa became the latest state to improve its civil asset forfeiture laws. In many states across the country, government agencies need merely a preponderance of evidence to obtain a judgment of forfeiture over someone’s property. This can allow government agencies to seize and forfeit an individual’s property even when that individual may have never been convicted or even charged with a crime. However, the Iowa legislature and Governor Terry Branstad passed Senate File 446, which will reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture process while also providing greater protection for innocent property owners.

Civil asset forfeiture is a tool many law enforcement agencies use to combat criminal enterprises. However, there needs to be a balance between holding criminals accountable while also protecting individuals from an overreach of government. SF 446 lays out several important reforms for Iowa’s forfeiture process. One of the biggest reforms would abolish the use of civil asset forfeiture to seize and subsequently forfeit property valued at less than $5,000 unless the individual is convicted of a crime. This would address a major problem with current practices. Expensive legal fees can often be a deterrent that prevents owners from fighting to prove their property was not an instrumentality of a crime. The bill raises the standard of proof for seizures and forfeitures where the value of the property is $5,000 or greater from a preponderance of evidence to clear and convincing evidence. Finally, the bill creates new requirements that government agencies must report and maintain records for seized property. This includes the amount of property acquired by the agency and an itemized list of the specific expenditures made with amounts gained from the sale of the property, which is retained by the agency.

Iowa has taken significant steps to make sure citizens’ private property rights are protected. The provisions have improved reporting requirements and also raised the burden of proof for the government to take property. Several provisions of the law contain provisions of the ALEC models Asset Forfeiture Process and Private Property Protection Act and The Reporting of Seizure and Forfeiture Act. Although SF 446 does not completely abolish civil asset forfeiture, it a major step to better protect individual property rights.


In Depth: Criminal Justice

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