by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
Carolina Journal’s Brooke Conrad reports that the Robeson County Sheriff’s office has opted into the federal Equitable Sharing program. Conrad explains:
The Equitable Sharing program allows state and local agencies to keep 80% of whatever they take from forfeiture. The federal government keeps the other 20%. In 2018, N.C. law enforcement agencies made a little more than $17 million from forfeited cash and sales proceeds, show records from the DOJ.
Police do not need a criminal conviction under the program to seize a person’s assets. They only need a more lenient “preponderance of the evidence.” This means a person could have no criminal conviction, but their money, car, or other property can still be taken from them.
Under North Carolina state law, this practice would not be possible. Conrad writes:
In North Carolina, agencies can only forfeit property upon a criminal conviction, with all proceeds going straight to the state’s schools, and not to law enforcement pockets.
However, Equitable Sharing allows law enforcement to bypass state law, and, as Conrad reports:
[I]t’s much more profitable for law enforcement to take the federal loophole. Notably, Washington, D.C., and seven states — not including North Carolina — prohibit local law enforcement from participating in the Equitable Sharing Program.
This program can make police departments a sizeable amount of money. The neighboring Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office made a total of $51,372 last year from seizing assets under the federal equitable sharing program.
People across the spectrum agree that this is bad policy. Conrad writes:
One Cato Institute poll found 84% of Americans oppose civil asset forfeiture.
“You can’t get 80% to 90% of the American public to agree on anything,” Alban said. “In the past several years, people have become more aware of it.”
Leah Kang, a staff lawyer for the ACLU, agrees.
“Regardless of who is in the sheriff’s office, the policy undermines constitutional policing, and it undermines due process rights,” she said. “You have to make sure you have a criminal conviction in hand before you force someone to give up their property.”