Earlier this week, officials with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the Illinois Policy Institute, two organizations with vastly different political ideologies, announced the release of a rather shocking report that they co-authored on asset forfeiture here in the Land of Lincoln.
Indeed, their research efforts uncovered that from 2005 to 2015, law enforcement officials in Illinois confiscated a mindboggling $319 million in property and cash from people across the state via asset forfeiture, an average of nearly $30 million per year.
What exactly is asset forfeiture?
Both federal and state laws — including Illinois — permit law enforcement agencies to take everything from cash and land to vehicles and other personal property that they merely suspect was involved in some manner of criminal activity.
In other words, it isn’t necessary for a person to be convicted or even charged in order for their property to be permanently confiscated.
What happens to all this property that is taken by state law enforcement agencies?
As outlined in the report, state law enforcement agencies aren’t actually under any sort of legal obligation to maintain records, or otherwise keep information on the circumstances under which property was seized or how any proceeds derived thereof were spent.
In general, however, state law enforcement agencies can keep the property for their own use, or sell it at auction and retain the proceeds.
Doesn’t this create something of a conflict of interest?
The report by the ACLU and the Institute argues that asset forfeiture creates “contradictory incentives” for law enforcement officials in that while their primary objective is always to enforce the law honestly and fairly, they can nevertheless stand to fill their agency’s coffers by conducting more seizures — regardless of whether they’re truly justified.
“Asset forfeiture in Illinois has become policing for profit,” boldly proclaimed one of the author’s of the report.
We’ll continue this discussion in our next post …
In the meantime, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional if you have been charged with a high-level state crime or have questions about asset forfeiture.