House Bill 303, signed by the Governor on September 19, seeks to strike the proper balance between targeting criminal enterprise and safeguarding the rights of innocent property owners. The new law seeks to improve the current system by providing increased protections for property owners and requiring greater accountability from law enforcement.
Asset forfeiture laws target the heart of much criminal activity – the financial gain. Law enforcement finds the seizure of monetary assets to be an effective way to target drug trafficking organizations and high-level drug suppliers.
However, when asset forfeiture is not utilized appropriately it can have a significant, negative economic impact on innocent property owners. In some instances, innocent parties have been forced to forfeit their cash, vehicles, or even their homes, creating financial insecurity and disrupting their lives and the lives of their family members.
Under the new law, Illinois’ civil forfeiture law mirrors federal standards, shifting the burden of proving guilt to the government in order to seize property, instead of requiring the property owner to prove their innocence. The government must also demonstrate a higher burden of proof, increasing from probable cause to a preponderance of evidence. The new law also creates an expedited process of innocent owners to have the cases adjudicated more quickly.
Additionally, the law requires new data collection with regard to seizure of property by police departments and forfeitures by prosecutors in Illinois. The information must be reported to the State Police, and then posted on ISP’s website, so that taxpayers and lawmaker can determine how much property is being seized by different law enforcement agencies in Illinois; how much and what type of seized property is being forfeited; the amount of forfeiture proceeds received by law enforcement agencies; and how those agencies spend the money.