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Legislation calls for reform of Illinois' civil forfeiture laws

Many people might be unaware that the civil forfeiture laws in Illinois permit any state law enforcement agency to confiscate vehicles, cash, real estate or other personal property that it merely suspects is connected to criminal activity.  

As shocking as the reality that property can be seized absent charges or a conviction may be, consider also that law enforcement can either keep the property, or sell it at auction and keep the proceeds. Furthermore, none of this is subject to any sort of record-keeping requirement.

In case you have any doubts about how often this practice is used, consider that a jointly drafted report by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Illinois Policy Institute found that state law enforcement collected as much as $30 million via civil forfeiture in 2016 alone.

While these types of laws have been on the books in all 50 states for years, growing public outcry has finally resulted in change. Indeed, 19 states have altered their civil forfeiture laws since 2014 with many now requiring property seizure to be preceded by a criminal conviction.

As it turns out, Illinois lawmakers are currently considering legislation that would see our state added to this list.

Specifically, legislation introduced by state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) calls for the following major changes:

  • A conviction would need to be secured before property could be permanently confiscated.
  • The funds derived from confiscated assets would be diverted towards funding social services or specific law enforcement grants.
  • Law enforcement agencies would be required to publically catalog all property seized and the reason it was taken to enhance transparency.
  • Greater protection would be extended to innocent property owners by requiring the government to prove that the owner actually consented to the property's involvement in illegal activity.
  • The requirement that owners must pay a bond equal to 10 percent of the property's value in order to argue it was wrongfully confiscated would be eliminated

While the bill has been denounced by several law enforcement groups, which all say it will impede enforcement efforts, it seems to stand a good chance of gaining the necessary traction -- especially when you consider the national momentum on this topic.

Stay tuned for updates …

If you have been charged with a high-level state crime or have questions about asset forfeiture, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional.

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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