(The Center Square) – While praise was given for a recent set of reforms, an advocacy organization continued to take aim at New York state’s civil forfeiture laws in a new report.
The Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based public interest law firm, in December issued its third edition of “Policing for Profit,” a document alleging unwarranted punitive policies through the civil asset forfeiture process across the U.S.
In the report, New York garnered a “C” for its asset forfeiture laws and how they stack up with the rest of the country.
Comparatively, IFJ researchers said New York has a “somewhat higher bar to forfeit” compared to other states, particularly in drug cases that require prosecutors to provide clear and convincing evidence a crime occurred in connection with seized property.
But the organization criticizes other aspects of New York’s asset forfeiture laws, particularly in relation to a provision stating 60 percent of proceeds from seizures can go to law enforcement.
IFJ typically releases a report on forfeiture laws and their impact in civil cases once every five years. Since the last report in 2015, a number of states across the U.S., including New York, have enacted reforms.
New York’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget strengthened transparency requirements related to the state’s laws and their correlation to forfeitures – a point included in IFJ’s newest report and highlighted by Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his staffers.
When the fiscal 2020 budget was adopted in April 2019, Cuomo’s administration highlighted a number of reforms in a news release, including the changes implemented for civil asset forfeitures.
Cuomo’s administration described the specific reform as “continuing the governor’s efforts to restore confidence in our criminal justice system” through such means as prohibiting law enforcement from freezing a person’s cash during a prosecution unless a connection between the money and the illegal act can be shown.
In broad terms, Lisa Knepper, senior director of strategic research with IFJ, said the organization is encouraging nearly all states, including New York, to make even greater reforms.
“The heart of the problem remains poor state and federal civil forfeiture laws, which are little improved since the previous edition of ‘Policing for Profit’ was published,” Knepper said in a statement. “Most (states’) laws … still stack the deck against property owners and give law enforcement perverse financial incentives to pursue property over justice.”
According to IFJ, law enforcement agencies across New York state have forfeited more than $18.2 billion in assets in an 18-year period, beginning in 2000. Additionally, $1.4 billion in revenue has reportedly been generated through an equitable sharing provision with federal law enforcement agencies.
Across the country, IFJ officials said state and federal authorities have forfeited at least $68.8 billion in personal assets, based on information available, since 2000.
New Mexico received the highest grade – an “A” – in IFJ’s most recent report because of a 2015 reform that completely eliminated civil forfeitures and directed all forfeiture proceeds to the state’s general fund.
In the newest report, IFJ officials attempted to poke holes in the methodology behind asset forfeitures, which law enforcement have cited as a means of deterring crime. In the years following the reforms, New Mexico’s crime rates remained steady.
“New Mexico’s experience shows that strong forfeiture reform does not sacrifice public safety," Jennifer McDonald, senior research analyst with IFJ, said in a statement.