Some Coloradans may not be aware of this, but the state utilizes asset forfeiture. This is an action where the law enforcement claims that an asset was gained from unlawful activity, such as drug dealing or money laundering, and therefore can confiscate ill-gotten gain. It can be a large amount of cash, a car or even a house. The agency that seizes the asset can then put a sellable asset up for auction and keep 50% (which is actually lower than many states) the funds generated to support various actions or help cover the costs for equipment, travel and training, employee compensation, victim services, prevention programs and even operating expenses.
Fighting a forfeiture
Different states have versions of this, and many get abused by the law. Colorado does have a relatively high standard of clear and convincing proof to justify taking property. If an innocent owner objects to the seizure, the agency must prove:
- The owner participated in illegal activities
- The owner condoned illegal activities
- The owner knew about the criminal activity associated with the property
Accountability involving forfeiture
Law enforcement agencies must follow many rules regarding forfeiture, including filing reports that are available for public or legislative review. Moreover, district attorneys must file annual forfeiture reports with the Department of Local Affairs. Those reports must also indicate whether the owner of the seized property was convicted or charged with a crime. Viewing these reports also requires filing Colorado Open Records Act request.
Unfortunately, a watchdog group who filed a request found that many of the reports were missing, and the data of those not missing was not aggregated and reviewed. These holes make it difficult, if not impossible, to understand the size of the forfeitures in a simple way that the Open Records act intended.
The official numbers
Those interested in reviewing the state’s 2021 Seizure and Forfeiture Activity Report can do so here. They will see that the proceeds for the year were $4,259,374 based on an estimated value of $20,408,508 with $16,380,504 in cash.
The innocent have rights
Those with questions about forfeiture can fight back. However, it will take time and effort because officials count on that money to balance their budgets, and often they do not want to return what they seized. Nonetheless, the innocent do have the right to get their assets back.