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Home » Reports » Policing for Profit » Policing for Profit: Virginia

Virginia earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws:

  • Low bar to forfeit and no conviction required
  • Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
  • 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement

State Forfeiture Laws

Virginia has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the nation, earning a D-. In order to forfeit property in Virginia, the government need only show by a preponderance of the evidence that property is related to criminal activity. Innocent owners also bear the burden of proving that they had nothing to do with the alleged criminal activity in which their property has been implicated. Worst of all, Virginia law provides a tempting incentive to seize property as it allows law enforcement to retain 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds: Participating agencies keep 90 percent of the bounty, while the balance goes to the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services.

In 2015, the Virginia House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a bill that would have required a criminal conviction before property could be forfeited under state law. However, the Virginia Senate killed the bill, opting instead to refer the proposal to the Virginia State Crime Commission for further study.

Virginia law requires law enforcement agencies to report the type of property seized and the property’s final disposition to the DCJS. It does not require reporting on other important details, such as whether any criminal charges were filed in a case. Moreover, there is no requirement that the DCJS aggregate those reports or publish them online, providing little transparency. The Institute for Justice filed a request with the DCJS under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and learned that Virginia law enforcement agencies reportedly forfeited more than $34 million between 2000 and 2014, 80 percent of which came from cash forfeitures.

Show State Law Sources
Standard of proof

Preponderance of the evidence.

Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-386.10(A).

Innocent owner burden

Owner.

Va. Code Ann. §§ 19.2-386.10(A), 19.2-386.8(3).

Profit incentive

100 percent (90 percent to participating agencies, 10 percent to the Department of Criminal Justice Services).

Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-386.14(A1)–(B).

Reporting requirements

Agencies must report seizures and forfeitures to the Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-386.4; 6 Va. Admin. Code §§ 20-150-30, -40.

Other sources

Fain, T. (2015, February 17). Virginia senate kills asset forfeiture reforms. Daily Press. Retrieved from http://www.dailypress.com/news/politics/dp-nws-ga-asset-forfeiture-20150217-story.html.

State Forfeiture Data

Reported Forfeiture Proceeds

Year Currency Vehicles Real Property Other Total
2000 $4,514 $0 $0 $350 $4,864
2001 $1,697 $25,300 $0 $2,110 $29,107
2002 $3,282 $25,300 $0 $0 $28,582
2003 $9,888 $21,550 $0 $0 $31,438
2004 $16,279 $44,525 $0 $300 $61,104
2005 $19,296 $7,000 $0 $5,700 $31,996
2006 $64,288 $65,500 $109,000 $9,729 $248,517
2007 $248,664 $130,080 $167,600 $500 $546,844
2008 $187,620 $149,535 $0 $10,193 $347,348
2009 $641,335 $272,403 $397,600 $26,398 $1,337,736
2010 $5,079,344 $1,374,702 $109,202 $201,890 $6,765,138
2011 $5,378,117 $1,238,682 $110,000 $122,335 $6,849,134
2012 $5,886,958 $939,962 $26,000 $98,980 $6,951,900
2013 $5,614,249 $854,472 $59,300 $48,941 $6,576,962
2014 $3,928,669 $400,743 $0 $30,973 $4,360,385
Total $27,084,201 $5,549,754 $978,702 $558,399 $34,171,056
Average per year $1,805,613 $369,984 $65,247 $37,227 $2,278,070

Reported Number of Assets Forfeited

Year Currency Vehicles Real Property Other Total
2000 5 0 0 4 9
2001 2 8 0 9 19
2002 5 7 0 0 12
2003 11 5 0 0 16
2004 11 4 0 2 17
2005 9 3 0 3 15
2006 16 22 2 14 54
2007 37 24 1 2 64
2008 64 34 1 17 116
2009 147 73 4 36 260
2010 1,139 298 3 155 1,595
2011 1,085 262 4 122 1,473
2012 1,033 284 4 104 1,425
2013 947 169 1 42 1,159
2014 844 95 0 21 960
Total 5,355 1,288 20 531 7,194
Average per year 357 86 1 35 480

Source: Data represent the total value of forfeitures organized by the fiscal year in which assets were seized. The Institute for Justice obtained these data in a spreadsheet from Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services by filing a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request.

Virginia ranks 30th for federal forfeiture, with nearly $111 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

Federal Equitable Sharing

Virginia law enforcement agencies’ use of the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program earns the state  a rank of 30th. Between 2000 and 2013, agencies received nearly $111 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds, though much of that came in just one year, 2007, when law enforcement hauled in over $46 million. An astonishing 96 percent of these proceeds came from joint task forces and investigations, practices mostly unaffected by former Attorney General Holder’s policy change, indicating that Virginia agencies’ equitable sharing behavior is likely to continue on much the same scale. Finally, law enforcement agencies also received over $75 million in equitable sharing proceeds from the Treasury Department between 2000 and 2013, averaging close to $5.4 million per fiscal year.

View Local Law Enforcement Data
YearDOJ
(calendar years)
Treasury
(fiscal years)
2000 $3,204,727 $1,203,000
2001 $2,140,180 $1,731,000
2002 $2,977,011 $523,000
2003 $3,380,939 $1,084,000
2004 $4,709,337 $434,000
2005 $3,726,431 $3,877,000
2006 $5,407,170 $2,954,000
2007 $46,113,588 $1,880,000
2008 $12,546,214 $10,827,000
2009 $4,030,424 $1,794,000
2010 $5,763,384 $1,386,000
2011 $4,019,777 $994,000
2012 $6,836,413 $628,000
2013 $6,077,868 $45,838,000
Total $110,933,461 $75,153,000
Average Per Year $7,923,819 $5,368,071

DOJ Equitable Sharing,
Adoptive vs. Joint, 2000-2013

Adoptions
Joint Task Forces and Investigations
Seizures
Proceeds

DOJ Equitable Sharing Proceeds, 2000-2013

Sources: Institute for Justice analysis of DOJ forfeiture data obtained by FOIA; Treasury Forfeiture Fund Accountability Reports. Data include civil and criminal forfeitures. Because DOJ figures represent calendar years and Treasury figures cover fiscal years, they cannot be added.

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