Writing at journalnow.com — the online site of the Winston-Salem Journal, JLF’s Director of Legal Studies, Jon Guze, explains why North Carolina should curtail law enforcement agencies’ participation in a federal program called ‘equitable sharing.’ Jon makes the case that ‘equitable sharing’ turns innocent until proven guilty on its head.

It’s an end-run around the protection of civil liberties that should alarm every North Carolinian. A federal program called “equitable sharing” makes it possible for North Carolina law enforcement agencies to do two things forbidden under North Carolina law: confiscate property without convicting the owner of a crime and keep the proceeds for their own use. Between 2012 and 2017, law enforcement agencies in the greater Triad area collected almost $10 million through the equitable sharing program. The Winston-Salem Police Department alone collected almost $900,000 during that period.

Why should we be concerned about civil asset forfeiture?

Under North Carolina’s criminal forfeiture statutes, property acquired through criminal activity is only subject to forfeiture after the owner has been convicted of the underlying crime; under our constitution, all forfeiture proceeds must be used for public education. These legal requirements protect the innocent, discourage abuse, and make our asset forfeiture program one of the best in the country.

Unfortunately, equitable sharing makes it easy for state and local law enforcement agencies to circumvent these requirements by referring seized property to a federal agency for “adoption.” The adopting agency then processes the seizure under federal law, deducts a 20 percent fee for its services and returns the remaining proceeds to the state agency. Because the whole transaction takes place under federal law, the owner of the property doesn’t have to be convicted — or even charged — and the agency that seized the property is not merely allowed to keep the proceeds, it’s required to do so.

Read Jon Guze’s piece on civil asset forfeiture here, and then dig deeper into Jon Guze’s report on preventing civil asset forfeiture here.