I sat down with Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee last night and talked to her about her 2009 report on civil asset forfeitures in the state of Missouri. I’ll have more to blog about soon, but wanted to highlight a couple things I learned.
The reports she received from prosecutors around the state detailing the extent of civil forfeiture activities were a ‘mess’. Often the records are misplaced or lost or ineptly kept, making her job compiling the the information necessary for a report difficult. There also appears to be little or no oversight of ‘adoptive’ or ‘equitable’ forfeiture, a mechanism that state and local police in Missouri have used in the past to dodge state requirement that proceeds from forfeited assets be turned over to the general fund. The current law requires judicial approval when assets are transferred between state and federal authorities in equitable forfeiture and I think is limited to assets seized with help from the federal government, but I am unable to find evidence that this law is being properly followed or enforced. Indeed, the large amounts of money moved around in this way by Boone County, Laclede County, Butler County, and New Madrid suggest to me that police agencies around the state continue to use adoptive forfeiture to retain control of the proceeds from seized assets for their own purposes.
Missouri law also mandates that civil forfeiture also be accompanied by ‘criminal action’ to prevent innocent people from having their property seized. Unfortunately I don’t know if the descriptor of ‘criminal action’ is equivalent to a conviction; it is still possible to seize and keep property and file charges that are dropped while satisfying the requirement for ‘criminal action’. Of course, this is problematic.
I’ll have more soon; I’ll be meeting Montee again next week to cover the subject in more detail.