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Colorado

Colorado

Colorado earns a C for its civil forfeiture laws:

Standard of Proof

Somewhat higher bar to forfeit: Prosecutors must provide clear and convincing evidence that property is connected to a crime.

Innocent Owner Burden

Stronger protections for the innocent: The government must prove third-party owners knew about criminal activity connected to their property.

Financial Incentive

Large profit incentive: 75% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement (50% to law enforcement directly and 25% to a law enforcement community services fund that funnels proceeds back to law enforcement; the remaining 25% goes to drug rehabilitation programs).

The letter grade reflects the state’s forfeiture laws as of December 2020. When we become aware of relevant reforms, we are updating the standard of proof, innocent owner burden and financial incentive language above, but we are not updating the letter grade.

Recent Reforms

  • (2018) HB 18-1020: Extended transparency requirements to cover forfeitures under local ordinances; but also created another grant program, funded by legislative appropriations, to reimburse local agencies for funds they would have received but for the limits on their participation in federal equitable sharing; effectively increased the state’s profit incentive from 50% to 75% by creating “community services” grant program, funded in part by forfeiture proceeds, to provide law enforcement agencies with funding for technology and training, among other purposes.
  • (2017) HB 17-1313: Imposed new limits on participation in federal equitable sharing; strengthened transparency requirements by adopting IJ’s model reporting legislation.

Recommendations

  • End civil forfeiture
  • Direct all forfeiture proceeds to a non-law enforcement fund
  • Fully close the equitable sharing loophole
  • Strengthen transparency and accountability requirements

State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000–2019

Between 2000 and 2018, Colorado law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $15 million under state law. Between 2000 and 2019, they generated an additional $81 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $96 million in forfeiture revenue. Colorado ranks 39th for its participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. However, in 2017, the state prohibited agencies from receiving federal proceeds from property worth less than $50,000.

At least $96.5 million in forfeiture revenue
2000–2019

Year Colorado Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total
2000 $623,651 $639,942 $17,000 $1,280,593
2001 $2,210,838 $5,013,103 $69,000 $7,292,941
2002 $1,454,868 $1,348,887 $48,000 $2,851,755
2003 $1,193,625 $1,288,769 $111,000 $2,593,394
2004 $249,179 $1,712,673 $28,000 $1,989,852
2005 $609,354 $2,944,760 $215,000 $3,769,114
2006 $1,106,608 $5,159,744 $83,000 $6,349,352
2007 $783,888 $4,799,505 $336,000 $5,919,393
2008 $761,082 $4,211,955 $22,000 $4,995,037
2009 $1,553,586 $4,494,751 $496,000 $6,544,337
2010 $351,442 $3,808,573 $330,000 $4,490,015
2011 $739,151 $3,220,174 $261,000 $4,220,325
2012 $533,111 $5,773,624 $643,000 $6,949,735
2013 $628,239 $3,817,589 $1,885,000 $6,330,828
2014 $491,773 $3,974,765 $228,000 $4,694,538
2015 $390,766 $5,066,151 $1,746,000 $7,202,917
2016 $577,292 $3,110,770 $303,000 $3,991,062
2017 $798,118 $7,018,719 $316,000 $8,132,837
2018 $343,450 $4,402,065 $877,000 $5,622,515
2019 Unavailable $1,287,556 $40,000 $1,327,556
Totals $15,400,021 $73,094,075 $8,054,000 $96,548,096

All revenue figures include both civil and criminal forfeitures. Revenues are not adjusted for inflation. State reporting requirements changed in 2017.

Colorado's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

B

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

A

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

A

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

A

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

C*

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

A

* Agencies must file even when they have nothing to report.

For full transparency and accountability grades, visit www.ij.org/TransparencyReportCards.

Forfeitures Under Colorado Law: Key Facts

Median Value

$799

From 2017 to 2018, half of Colorado’s currency forfeitures were worth less than $799.

Property Types

From 2017 to 2018, 60% of Colorado’s forfeitures were of currency.

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

Colorado does not report whether forfeitures are processed under civil or criminal forfeiture law.

Expenditures

From 2017 to 2018, Colorado law enforcement spent $6 million from forfeiture funds—nearly half on equipment and capital expenditures.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

Forfeiture proceeds for 2000 through 2016 were obtained via public records requests to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Property-level proceeds and expenditure data for 2017 through 2018 are from DOLA’s website. All figures are in calendar years. Equitable sharing data are from DOJ’s and Treasury’s annual forfeiture reports. Due to differences in reporting and accounting practices, state figures may not match aggregate numbers produced by the state or cover the same 12-month period as the federal data.

Legal Sources

Standard of proof: Clear and convincing evidence.

Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 16-13-307(1.7)(c) (public nuisance), -505(1.7)(c) (contraband), -509 (currency), 18-17-106(11) (racketeering).

Innocent owner burden: Government.

Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 16-13-303(5.1)(a), (5.2)(c), 16-13-504(2.1)(a), (2.2)(c).

Financial incentive: 75% (50% to law enforcement, 25% to a grant fund that distributes money to law enforcement). The remaining 25% goes to drug rehabilitation programs.

Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 16-13-311(3)(a)(VII), -506(1), 18-17-106(2)(d).

Note: This restriction does not apply to funds received through federal equitable sharing, which is available only in cases where more than $50,000 is seized.

Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 16-13-306.5, -504.5, -601.

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