North Dakota Scores a Big Win Against State Sponsored Seizure Schemes

Civil asset forfeiture reform is coming to North Dakota.

On May 2, Governor Doug Burgum signed House Bill 1286, which substantially limits law enforcement agencies’ ability to arrest someone, take their property, and make attempts to keep what they’ve confiscated even when no crime can be proven.

Civil asset forfeiture is one of the most controversial law enforcement practices in America. Traditionally, civil asset forfeiture has been used as a way to fight drug trafficking by seizing the assets of wealthy kingpins. However, Scott Shackford of Reason argues that “it has instead grown into a massively corrupt mechanism where police agencies pull people over or raid their houses on whatever pretext the cops can muster.”

According to Shackford, “North Dakota’s rules were particularly bad for the citizens.”

North Dakota and Massachusetts were the only two states to get an F grade in the Institute for Justice’s “Policing for Profit” state reports. Before HB 1286 was passed, police only needed to have probable cause to make an attempt at seizing someone’s property. Law enforcement agencies could also keep up to 100 percent of what they seized provided that they kept the total forfeiture amount below $200,000.

Now, HB 1286 requires that police have to get a conviction before seizing people’s assets. Exemptions exist if the person is dead, has been deported, has disappeared, or has abandoned their property. On top of that, there also exemptions if police and prosecutors can prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that assets they intend to seize are “directly connected to a crime.”

This new law also establishes tracking and reporting requirements that allow citizens and journalists to have records of where the money is going.

The bill sponsor, State Representative Rick Becker was unhappy with the way the bill was watered down. As a result, Becker is considering a ballot initiative in 2020 that would strengthen the rules for asset forfeiture. Regardless, this bill is a good first step for advocates of civil asset forfeiture.

A few months ago, BLP covered the recent Supreme Court ruling that limited states’ ability to impose excessive fines and use civil asset forfeiture to seize private property.

With growing momentum on the issue, civil asset forfeiture reform appears to be one of the more promising battles for liberty activists.