In Indiana, the civil forfeiture law (Indiana Code 34-24-1) directs that seized property and cash be used to cover the expenses of the seizing law enforcement agency, with the remainder being deposited in the common school fund. Over the past several years, however, this law has been outright ignored by Indiana’s law enforcement:
Indiana’s civil forfeiture law works like this: When property or money is seized in connection with certain crimes, often drug related, the prosecutor, or a private attorney hired by the prosecutor, can file a civil action against the property or money acquired. Once it is shown that the property or money was involved in a crime, the court is to make a determination of the law enforcement cost of the action, a figure which can include attorney’s fees. Once those costs are paid, the remainder of the forfeiture proceeds are to be paid into the common school fund maintained by the Treasurer of the State of Indiana.
The problem is…it appears that only one county in the State of Indiana – Wayne County – is complying with the law.
The numbers that Paul Ogden (a political science professor at University of Indianapolis) shows are pretty ugly: 87 of Indiana’s 92 counties haven’t paid anything into the forfeiture statewide fund over a 2 year period. Ogden’s theorizes that the discrepancy between Wayne County and everywhere else is a lack of clarity with the law between judges and prosecutors.
Indiana doesn’t just have problems with selective enforcement of forfeiture laws, it also has a troubling tendency to over-enforce their forfeiture laws. Take, for example, this article from Fort Wayne’s Journal Gazette in 2009 about police seizing cash without proving a crime:
Though the processes may differ with each case and whether it’s handled by federal or state prosecutors, people who typically have money seized must file a claim if they want it back. They have to show how they got the money and that it was procured legally. Many don’t even file a claim, according to Trgovich.
“If you find money in a vehicle, and that’s all you find, many times (the people) in the vehicle don’t want to admit it’s theirs,” Trgovich said.
After money is seized by a law enforcement agency, prosecutors in either state or federal court take over a process that determines where the money ends up. Typically, federal prosecutors handle large amounts of money, such as the $26,000 case, which Barile said has been forwarded to federal authorities. Local prosecutors take the cases with smaller amounts of cash, from $1,000 to $4,000, according to Richards.
The article also provides a graphic saying that the forfeiture money acquired by Allen County prosecutors has doubled in 4 years (from 53K to 100K.)
Remember that in Delaware County, Indiana there was a large scandal a few years ago involving prosecutor Mark McKinney, who entered secret agreements with forfeiture defendants in order to ensure that his office and police officers in the county were able keep 25% of the forfeiture assets. McKinney also litigated forfeiture claims in court for the state as a private attorney receiving a percentage contingency fee. A Delaware County judge found that they “clearly did not” keep with state statutory commands, along with criticizing the secrecy of their forfeiture agreements. This is clearly extortion (ie, “give me part of your money or I’ll take all of it”) by a man who is little more than a thug in a suit.
Keep in mind that all these problems exist solely in one state, Indiana, which has clear rules about how asset forfeitures should be handled. Imagine the problems in states that don’t have any clear statewide rules about where forfeiture money is supposed to go!
Seizing the property and assets of criminals is one thing. Seizing property from people who have not been convicted of a crime and keeping the cash in violation of clearly stated law is another, and the citizens of Indiana deserve better.