Illinois Legislature Passes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

The Illinois Legislature became the latest body to pass comprehensive reforms around civil asset forfeiture with HB 303. This bill creates strong reporting requirements, raises the level of evidence needed for forfeitures and expedites hearings for innocent victims of seizures. The bill awaits signing by the Governor.

Written by Freddy Martinez

Two weeks ago, Reason published an article titled “Poor Neighborhoods Hit Hardest by Asset Forfeiture in Chicago”. Based on documents provided by Lucy Parsons Labs, Reason analyzed over 23,000 civil asset forfeitures over the past five years. After publishing these documents, it became clear that the people who have their assets seized are primarily concentrated in poor neighborhoods; a visualization is below.


Seizures

Image via J Justin Wilson

Among the statistics that came out of this data analysis of our documents it was found:

  • There is a less than a 2% chance that a cash seizure returns more than 50% of the monies seized.
  • 85% of all cash seizures result in 95% to 100% of all the cash seized by Cook County.
  • In only about 9% of all cases does CCSAO not pursue the seizures.

After Radley Balko’s Op-Ed in the Washington Post was republished in the Chicago Tribune, the head of Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Kim Foxx published her own letter in response. She states:

Every year, Illinois authorities seize tens of millions of dollars of property from state residents under civil asset forfeiture, which originated as a tool for law enforcement to target those responsible for major criminal activities and deprive them of the tools to victimize more people.

In theory, seized property should be coming from gang leaders, drug traffickers and others who threaten our communities. In practice, it disproportionately comes from residents of poor and minority communities. We must address this injustice.

Many states across the country agree and have enacted laws to reform civil asset forfeiture. Illinois should follow their lead.

Lucy Parsons Labs does not agree that people are defined by their crimes, alleged or actual. The wide-ranging asset forfeiture practices in Illinois and elsewhere pulverize communities to stack the coffers of already bloated police departments and sheriff’s offices. In particular, we call for an end of all civil asset forfeiture programs as part of a complete shutdown to the War on Drugs. We understand that these reform efforts are only part of a general harm reduction strategy toward ending the War on Drugs. The day after Kim Foxx’s op-ed was published, the Illinois Senate also voted to reform civil asset forfeiture.. This sends HB 303 to the Governor’s desk for signing.