Did you know that if law enforcement officials believe that your property or assets were involved in the commission of a crime , they can legally seize the property in question? Under civil asset forfeiture laws in Illinois, you could lose your property even if you are never charged with a crime, let alone convicted. Over the last decade, law enforcement agencies have reportedly netted nearly $320 million worth of property and cash through asset seizures, including nearly $80 million seized by the Chicago Police Department alone.
Civil asset forfeiture is a contentious practice, and its merits have been hotly debated across the country in recent years. In fact, 19 states and Washington, D.C. have amended their asset forfeiture laws since 2014 to create a more equitable system. As it currently stands, only a dozen states currently require a criminal conviction before assets can be permanently confiscated, but several others, including Illinois, may soon adopt similar guidelines.
Measure Offers Improvements
According to Illinois state Senator Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, the asset forfeiture system in the state is comparable to an “unfettered piggybank” for local and state law enforcement agencies. While he acknowledged that seizing assets is sometimes appropriate—such as money directly tied to drug trafficking operations—the widespread use is “a real overreach.” Harmon is the sponsor of a legislative measure that would require a criminal conviction for permanent asset forfeiture. The bill would also force law enforcement officials to publicly document the assets they seize and the reasons for the seizure. Currently, no such reporting requirements are in place.
In addition, the proposed law would put the burden of proof on the state to show that the owner of the seized assets knowingly consented to his or her property being used for an illegal purpose. At the moment, the situation is reversed, and those looking to have their assets released must show the property was connected to a crime. The process of doing so is also notoriously difficult and slow, and many innocent people whose assets have been seized simply give up because they cannot afford to keep fighting. And, low-income individuals cannot even ask public defender for help because the cases involve property instead of criminal charges.
Law Enforcement Opposition
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many police and law enforcement groups oppose the proposed bill as it currently written. They say that asset forfeiture is a necessary tool in upsetting the ability of a criminal enterprise to operate. It is easy to imagine that most agencies would also not be keen on the idea of losing such a lucrative stream. According to a spokesman for the Illinois State Police, the ISP is willing to work with the measure’s sponsors to expand protections for innocent property owners without compromising law enforcement’s efforts to deter illegal activities.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with a crime or your property has been seized by law enforcement in connection with an alleged crime, contact an experienced Will County criminal defense lawyer right away. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Jack L. Zaremba understands the law, and he will fight to ensure your rights are fully protected. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation at our office today.