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Illinois Lawmakers Take Action to Limit Property Forfeiture by Law Enforcement

Asset Forfeiture sign

State legislators are currently considering a bill which would alter the terms under which law enforcement officers could seize property in conjunction with an arrest. The practice of asset forfeiture has come under sharp criticism across Illinois, which often results in the seizure of property before an individual has been convicted of, or even charged with, any crime.

Standard allows for nearly-unchecked seizure of property

Under current standards, Illinois police departments can seize property they believe to have been used in association with illegal activity prior to any conviction in association with the alleged criminal activity. This can result in property being seized from those who are disconnected from the crime at issue, often tying up needed property for months, even years, at a time. Challenging forfeitures can be an arduous and prohibitively expensive process. Individuals who have had their property seized are often forced to hire an attorney to represent them if they want a chance of getting their belongings back, and public defenders aren’t available. Many law enforcement agencies use the assets seized to fund programs within their department. State Sen. Don Harmon, the sponsor of legislation aimed at reforming asset forfeiture, asserts that the practice provides an “unfettered piggybank” to unscrupulous law enforcement.

Process to have property returned lengthy and costly

The story of Kara Bland is an illustration of the way that asset forfeiture can wreak havoc on the lives of innocent people. Bland had loaned her new car to her daughter’s father. The man used the car to pick up a friend who was carrying marijuana, and the vehicle was seized when the man was arrested. Bland was forced to spend nine months and $1,000 fighting for her car to be returned to her. Bland claims that the difficulty inherent in regaining seized property isn’t an accident. “They intentionally try to make this process as difficult and confusing as they can…so that people will eventually give up,” she said in a newspaper interview.

Many states acting to limit asset forfeiture

In the past three years, 19 states have taken action to limit asset forfeiture, with 12 states requiring a conviction before property can be seized. Nine additional states are considering bills that would limit the practice. The bill currently under consideration in Illinois would limit police departments’ ability to permanently seize assets by requiring that there be a conviction before property can be permanently seized. Additionally, any profits made from the seizure of assets would need to be directed toward social services and through grants provided by law enforcement. Additionally, law enforcement would be required to track and report the assets seized, which they are not currently obligated to do, and would be required to show that the property owner consented to the use of the property in connection with a crime before seizing it. Currently, the standard requires the property owner to prove that they were not connected to the crime if they wish to have the property returned.

If you’ve been the victim of an abuse of power by law enforcement in the Chicagoland area and need help getting the just result you deserve, contact the dedicated and knowledgeable Justice, IL criminal defense attorney John Fairman for a consultation, at 708-799-4848, with additional offices in Homewood at 708-799-4848.

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