According to data collected by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Illinois Policy Institute, state and local police agencies have seized and kept nearly $320 million in assets purportedly related to criminal activity since 2005. During that same time, federal law enforcement entities within Illinois seized an additional $404 million. Law enforcements agencies have the authority to do so under state and federal asset forfeiture laws, but with a signature from Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, the laws regarding asset forfeiture in Illinois could be about to change.
Understanding Asset Forfeiture
When a person is arrested in connection with a criminal offense, it is understandable that the police would seize contraband including drugs, paraphernalia, and weapons owned without proper licensing. Law enforcement, however, is also permitted to seize any private property believed to have been used or generated in connection with the criminal activity. While existing laws were intended to help combat organized crime and drug cartels by reducing their available assets, police departments have long since applied the same laws to much smaller operations. Seized assets may include cars, guns, homes, and, most often, cash, and the assets may be seized and kept even if the owner is never convicted or charged.
If a property owner wishes to reclaim seized property, existing law requires him or her to pay a bond of 10 percent of the value of the property just to have his or her case heard. Even then, law enforcement must only show probable cause that the assets were used or generated in the commission of a crime—not necessarily by the owner—in order to keep the property....