Location:
DRUGS- LAW AND LEGISLATION; FORFEITURE;

OLR Research Report


DRUG ASSET FORFEITURE

By: Christopher Reinhart, Chief Attorney

Phoenix Ronan, Principal Analyst, Office of Fiscal Analysis


ISSUE
Describe Connecticut's drug asset forfeiture law including how it is administered, how much the state receives from forfeitures annually, how forfeited funds are distributed and for what purposes, and what the current balances are for funds. Also provide examples from news stories of how forfeited funds are used.

SUMMARY

Under the forfeiture law, prosecutors file civil actions in court seeking an order to forfeit property seized related to drug crimes.  Forfeited money is deposited in a drug asset forfeiture revolving account.  The law requires using account funds for substance abuse treatment and education programs and detecting, investigating, apprehending, and prosecuting people for drug crimes.  It requires distributing funds to the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP), local police departments, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), and the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) for certain purposes.  A three-person panel must authorize distributions to DESPP and local police, and these law enforcement agencies must place any money they receive in a separate account.

Using the drug asset forfeiture law, the state collected $1.1 million in FY 13, almost $1.7 million in FY 14, and almost $2 million in FY 15. At the end of FY 15, DESPP's account had a balance of $443,477, DMHAS's account a balance of $307,517, and DCJ's account a balance of $147,012. We do not have information on current balances in the forfeiture accounts of police departments other than DESPP.

We searched Connecticut newspapers and found a few articles in recent years discussing drug asset forfeitures.  According to these articles, forfeitures helped departments purchase surveillance cameras, uniforms, bicycles, and police dogs and prepare a military vehicle for police use.  An article also reports that a seized car was used to teach young people about drug crimes.

FORFEITURE PROCESS

The law allows prosecutors to file a civil action in court seeking an order to forfeit money or property seized from someone related to a drug crime. The court must identify and the prosecutor notify anyone who is an owner or has an interest in the money or property. The court must hold a hearing and the prosecutor must prove any material facts by clear and convincing evidence. Testimony or evidence offered by an owner or interested person, and evidence derived from it, cannot be used against the person in any proceeding except for perjury or contempt related to providing the testimony or evidence.

The court cannot order forfeited (1) an owner's or lienholder's interest in property when he or she did not know and could not reasonably have known that the property was related to criminal activity or (2) money or property an owner used or intends to use for legitimate attorney's fees for his or her criminal defense.

If a court issues a forfeiture order:

1. the Department of Administrative Services must sell any forfeited property at a public auction;

2. storage costs, court costs, and any property interests the court orders paid (for example, the court can order that proceeds pay off a loan on a forfeited car) are paid from the forfeited money or auction proceeds; and

3. funds are deposited in the drug asset forfeiture revolving account (CGS 54-36h).

Prosecutors assigned to the Asset Forfeiture Bureau in the Chief State's Attorney's Office generally conduct forfeiture proceedings.  According to the office's website, the bureau is designed to “take full advantage of state and federal laws” allowing forfeiture of property related to illegal drug trafficking (see http://www.ct.gov/csao/cwp/view.asp?q=285778#AssetFB).

DISTRIBUTION OF FORFEITED FUNDS

The law requires using account funds for (1) substance abuse treatment and education programs and (2) detecting, investigating, apprehending, and prosecuting people for drug crimes.  The law requires using funds as follows:

1. 70% to DESPP and local police departments, of which 15% must be used for drug education and 85% for detecting, investigating, apprehending, and prosecuting people for drug crimes and training police on gang violence;

2. 20% to DMHAS for (a) substance abuse treatment and education programs and (b) tobacco prevention and enforcement positions engaged in compliance activities, as required to receive a federal block grant for substance abuse and treatment; and

3. 10% to DCJ to prosecute people for drug crimes (the division states that it uses this money for salaries related to asset forfeiture).

The law requires a panel to authorize the equitable distribution of funds to DESPP and local police departments to reflect each department's contribution in events leading to a forfeiture.  The panel consists of the following people or their designees:  the DESPP commissioner, statewide narcotics task force commander, and Connecticut Police Chiefs Association president.  DESPP and local departments must hold any money they receive in separate accounts or funds established for these purposes and the money cannot be placed in a state or town general fund or be used for purposes other than those described above.  Local departments that use their own funds for drug crime activities can apply to the panel for reimbursement.  The law requires any money in the account at the end of a fiscal year to remain there (CGS 54-36i).

Table 1 shows total asset forfeitures in recent years and their distributions according to the statutory formula described above.

Year

Total

Law Enforcement

DMHAS

DCJ

FY 15

$1,958,168

$1,370,717

$391,634

$195,817

FY 14

1,688,588

1,183,658

336,620

168,310

FY 13

1,100,217

770,125

220,061

110,031

FY 12

3,198,314

2,239,030

639,523

319,761

FY 11

2,477,469

1,734,228

495,494

247,747

Tables 2 through 4 show changes in the DESPP, DMHAS, and DCJ asset forfeiture accounts between FY 11 and FY 15. Revenues in DESPP's account include funds to be passed on to other law enforcement agencies, although the balance at the end of each fiscal year appears to be remaining money available for DESPP's use.

Table 2:  DESPP Asset Forfeiture Account from FY 11 to FY 15

 

FY 11

FY 12

FY 13

FY 14

FY 15

Beginning Balance

$116,693

$218,776

$687,996

$727,424

$774,466

Revenue*

1,734,228

2,239,030

770,125

1,183,658

1,370,717

Expenditures

(1,632,145)

(1,769,810)

(730,697)

(1,136,616)

(1,701,706)

Ending Balance

218,776

687,996

727,424

774,466

443,477

*Revenue in DESPP's account includes money to be passed on to other law enforcement agencies.

Table 3:  DMHAS Asset Forfeiture Account from FY 11 to FY 15

 

FY 11

FY 12

FY 13

FY 14

FY 15

Beginning Balance

$190,292

$388,607

$258,950

$209,864

$224,660

Revenue

495,494

639,523

220,061

336,620

391,634

Expenditures

(297,179)

(769,180)

(269,147)

(321,824)

(308,777)

Ending Balance

388,607

258,950

209,864

224,660

307,517

Table 4:  DCJ Asset Forfeiture Account from FY 11 to FY 15

 

FY 11

FY 12

FY 13

FY 14

FY 15

Beginning Balance

$115,855

$102,691

$147,651

$54,227

$90,013

Revenue

247,747

319,761

110,031

168,310

195,817

Expenditures

(260,911)

(274,801)

(203,455)

(132,524)

(138,818)

Ending Balance

102,691

147,651

54,227

90,013

147,012


Table 5 shows the amount of funds distributed to individual local law enforcement agencies in FY 15.

Table 5: Drug Asset Forfeiture Funds Distributed to Local Law Enforcement Agencies in FY 15 (total $406,609)

Town

Amount

Town

Amount

Town

Amount

Ansonia

$10,802

Meriden

$11,481

Seymour

$1,491

Avon

571

Middletown

33,218

Shelton

1,721

Bethel

410

Milford

7,301

Southington

3,769

Town

Amount

Town

Amount

Town

Amount

Bloomfield

400

Naugatuck

18,043

Stamford

38,514

Bridgeport

149,043

New Britain

82,302

Stratford

16,823

Bristol

130

New Canaan

135

Suffield

3,703

Brookfield

1,785

New Haven

45,072

Terryville

2,030

Cheshire

5,940

New London

1,050

Torrington

1,028

Clinton

3,754

New Milford

2,612

Trumbull

376

Cromwell

5,842

Newington

1,184

Uncasville

1,737

Danbury

35,102

Newtown

2,395

Unionville

5,950

East Hartford

40,214

North Branford

875

Wallingford

1,359

East Haven

1,450

North Haven

19,605

Waterbury

95,802

Enfield

17,072

Norwalk

66,083

Waterford

3,128

Glastonbury

1,481

Norwich

1,150

Watertown

6,677

Greenwich

4,974

Orange

6,043

West Hartford

43,646

Groton

1,050

Pawcatuck

302

West Haven

5,881

Guilford

4,347

Plainfield

1,050

Wethersfield

4,691

Hartford

82,778

Putnam

326

Willimantic

4,292

Kensington

2,575

Ridgefield

2,556

Wolcott

1,590

Manchester

36,889

Rocky Hill

502

Woodbridge

6,043

EXAMPLES OF FUND USES

We searched Connecticut newspapers and found a few articles in the last few years discussing drug asset forfeitures. 

A 2014 Record Journal article states that Meriden used drug asset forfeiture money to purchase downtown surveillance cameras, uniforms, and bicycles, although it is unclear whether the assets were forfeited under state or federal law (Buchanan, “Area Police Seize Assets Sporadically,” Record Journal, August 11, 2014).

● The same 2014 Record Journal article states that Southington purchased two police dogs with forfeiture money (Buchanan, “Area Police Seize Assets Sporadically,” Record Journal, August 11, 2014).

● A 2014 Harford Courant article states that the Newington Police Department planned to use money from its drug asset forfeiture fund to “civilianize” a military vehicle acquired through a federal surplus equipment program.  The vehicle, a BAE Caiman that was designed to carry combat troops in Afghanistan, required $54,365 to, among other things, eliminate gun ports, add lights, and install a radio system (Hoffman, “Police Acquire Armored Vehicle,” Hartford Courant, July 24, 2014).

● A 2012 New London Day article states that Norwich and New London police each obtained a Lexus from a drug dealer in 2009.  It states that New London used the vehicle to teach young people and placed a decal on the car stating it was seized from a drug dealer (Florin, “When a Drug Dealer Goes to Jail, the State Pockets His Money,” New London Day, February 26, 2012).

CR:cmg