The House Judiciary Committee held an information-only hearing on forfeiture reform.
Between special sessions, forfeiture reform was discussed by the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee on Aug. 5. This was an information-only hearing, so no votes were taken.
Civil liability organizations want forfeiture reform to better protect the civil rights of individuals when they have their property seized and/or forfeited. Many of the recommendations in a compromise bill address the process of forfeiture.
Practitioners and issue area experts testified at the hearing. While there were questions for testifiers, there was no debate among the committee members.
In the 2020 regular session, the House heard a forfeiture reform bill, but it did not reach the House floor for a vote. While the Senate heard a different version of the forfeiture reform bill in 2019, it did not hear any version during the 2020 legislative session.
State auditor review of forfeiture in Minnesota
State Auditor Julie Blaha discussed the 2018 Asset Forfeiture Report. She shared that there was good compliance with law enforcement reporting, which provided reliable data.
In 2018, forfeitures were overwhelming administrative forfeitures (versus judicial). Most forfeitures (60%) were vehicles. The most common crimes that resulted in forfeiture were DUI and controlled substances.
Supporters of the bill
Two testifiers, representing coalitions of law enforcement and civil liabilities organizations, spoke in favor of the compromise bill that resulted after a meeting of stakeholders. Notably, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and the Institute for Justice were not supportive of the bill.
Jason Flores, state director of the Minnesota Chapter of Americans for Prosperity and representing civil liberty organizations, explained that the bill includes expanded use of ignition interlock for DUIs, focuses seizures and forfeitures on repeat offenders, provides additional protections for innocent owners, establishes thresholds for money and property forfeitures, establishes additional reporting requirements, and creates a recidivism study, among other things.
Bob Small, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and representing the law enforcement coalition, addressed concerns previously articulated about the bill.
First, he discussed concerns with cash threshold having a negative impact on drug trafficking. He explained that the bill required that if there is probable cause, no threshold applies, and cash can be seized.
Second, he discussed the notion that the only reform solution is to combine civil and criminal forfeitures. He explained that the bill ensures due process guaranteed for criminal defendants and makes it easier for people to engage in the forfeiture process (shifting burdens to prosecutors during the process instead of making innocent owners have all of the burden).
New bill introduced
The bill language discussed at the hearing was compromise language from stakeholder meetings. A new forfeiture reform bill, HF 16 (Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul), was introduced on Aug. 12 during the third special session of 2020. However, it did not receive a hearing during the one-day legislative session.