JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (April 19, 2017) – Yesterday, a second Missouri House committee unanimously passed a bill that would close a loophole allowing state and local police to circumvent stringent state asset forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the feds.
Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-St. Louis) filed House Bill 231 (HB231) in January. The legislation would prohibit Missouri law enforcement agencies or prosecutors from entering into agreements to transfer seized property to a federal agency unless it included more than $100,000 in cash.
A study found the average forfeiture to be less than $10,000, so passage of HB231 would slam closed a loophole that allows state and local police to get around more strict state asset forfeiture laws in a vast majority of situations.
The Rules-Legislative Oversight Committee passed HB231 by a 13-0 vote, The House General Laws Committee previously passed HB231 an 11-0 margin.
Missouri has some of the best forfeiture restrictions in the country, according to the Institute for Justice. The state requires a criminal conviction before prosecutors can proceed with forfeiture, and law enforcement agencies don’t get a cut of the proceeds. But federal asset forfeiture standards are much lower. As a result, state and local police will often simply pass cases to the feds to avoid the more stringent state laws.
The situation in California was similar until recently. The state also has some of the strongest state-level restrictions on civil asset forfeiture in the country, but law enforcement would often bypass the state restrictions by partnering with a federal asset forfeiture program known as “equitable sharing.” Under these arrangements, state officials would simply hand over forfeiture prosecutions to the federal government and then receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds—even when state law banned or limited the practice. According to a report by the Institute for Justice, Policing for Profit, California ranked dead last of all states in the country between 2000 and 2013 as the worst offender. In other words, California law enforcement was passing off a lot of cases to the feds and collecting the loot. During the 2016 legislative session, the state closed the loophole.
Like California, Missouri was also among the states with the highest level of federal forfeiture between 2000 and 2013, raking in $126 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds in the that time.
Passage of HB231 would close the loophole and significantly increase protections for Missouri property owners.
As the Tenth Amendment Center previously reported the federal government inserted itself into the asset forfeiture debate in California. The feds clearly want the policy to continue.
We can only guess. But perhaps the feds recognize paying state and local police agencies directly in cash for handling their enforcement would reveal their weakness. After all, the federal government would find it nearly impossible to prosecute its unconstitutional “War on Drugs” without state and local assistance. Asset forfeiture “equitable sharing” provides a pipeline the feds use to incentivize state and local police to serve as de facto arms of the federal government by funneling billions of dollars into their budgets.
HB231 now moves to the full House for further consideration.