The legal system’s immense resources are not only used to prosecute and imprison a large number of people who are innocent of their convicted crimes. Those resources are also used to seize many millions of dollars a year through property “forfeiture” from people across the country who have not been convicted of committing a crime. Even worse, a significant percentage of the people who have their property taken away through forfeiture were not even charged with committing a crime.
The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice is required by a law passed in 2015 to issue an annual report on civil forfeitures by state agencies. On July 6, 2017 the “2015 Utah Annual Forfeiture Report” was released to the public. Federal forfeiture actions in Utah are not included in the report.
The Report documents there were 393 state forfeiture cases in 2015.
The vast majority — 94.4% — of forfeiture cases were not related to a criminal prosecution. Slightly more than 1 out of 20 forfeiture cases (5.6%) involved a person convicted of a crime.
Almost two-thirds of all forfeited property was seized during a traffic stop — from people who were not charged with committing a crime.
Only 4 of the 393 forfeiture cases were not related to an allegation of drug possession, etc. However, only 22 of the 393 cases (5.6%) actually involved a criminal prosecution. The evidence wasn’t substantial enough to warrant a criminal prosecution in 371 forfeiture cases — but the presumption of innocence the person(s) didn’t commit a crime wasn’t enough to stop the seizure of their property.
$2,178,295 was forfeited in 2015. 86.4% of the money was $1,882,047 in cash that was seized. The least amount of cash seized at one time was $50, and the most was $156,670.
When cash was seized, in only 13% of the cases was any of the cash returned — even though the overwhelming majority of the cash seizures didn’t involve a criminal prosecution. Not a single person received all the cash back that was seized from them, with 84% of the seized cash being the highest percent returned to any person.
Seized cars comprised 12.2% of the value of forfeitures in 2015. A seized vehicle was returned to its owner in only 1 out of 8 forfeiture cases.
The Report details that in 2015 more than $2 million in forfeited funds was distributed to organizations that included the Utah Department of Human Services – Division of Substance Abuse
and Mental Health in support of Utah Drug Courts; the Weber/Morgan, Davis Metro, Salt Lake Area Gang Project and Utah County multi-jurisdictional drug and crime task force projects; and, 19 state and local law enforcement agencies using a funding formula based on agency participation in the state forfeiture process.