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Iowa

Iowa

Iowa earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws:

Standard of Proof

Higher bar to forfeit in limited cases: Weak conviction provision falls short of criminal forfeiture (see “The Problem with ‘Conviction Requirements’”). It applies only if an owner contests forfeiture, putting the burden on owners to engage in a costly legal battle and making it easy for the government to forfeit without conviction. It does not require conviction of the owner, only of any person, and does not apply to property valued above $5,000. Once the conviction provision is satisfied, property must be linked to the crime by clear and convincing evidence.

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: 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement.

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

  • (2017) SF 446: Raised standard of proof; created weak conviction provision; shifted burden of proof from innocent owners to government; adopted new transparency requirements.

Recommendations

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

State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019

Between 2000 and 2019, Iowa law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $54 million under state law and generated an additional $46 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $100 million in forfeiture revenue—averaging more than $5 million a year. Iowa ranks 8th for its participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. The state does not prevent state and local agencies from using equitable sharing to circumvent state forfeiture law.

At least $100 million in state and federal forfeiture revenue
2000–2019

Year Iowa Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total
2000 $1,830,645 $725,201 $11,000 $2,566,846
2001 $1,586,684 $385,477 $2,000 $1,974,161
2002 $2,132,665 $454,855 $4,000 $2,591,520
2003 $2,022,894 $3,606,690 $161,000 $5,790,584
2004 $2,211,940 $3,429,906 $5000 $5,646,846
2005 $2,466,726 $1,497,974 $91,000 $4,055,700
2006 $3,910,228 $2,261,349 $111,000 $6,282,577
2007 $2,617,157 $1,770,877 $0 $4,388,034
2008 $2,551,467 $1,577,120 $20,000 $4,148,587
2009 $2,097,891 $8,598,692 $4,000 $10,700,583
2010 $1,653,044 $3,775,561 $118,000 $5,546,605
2011 $5,425,344 $4,101,795 $232,000 $9,759,139
2012 $3,247,836 $1,834,790 $1,220,000 $6,302,626
2013 $3,318,503 $2,481,399 $543,000 $6,342,902
2014 $4,276,751 $1,529,016 $782,000 $6,587,767
2015 $4,046,701 $1,870,722 $86,000 $6,003,423
2016 $3,134,819 $413,565 $128,000 $3,676,384
2017 $2,078,084 $463,866 $51,000 $2,592,950
2018 $1,814,946 $1,024,532 $17,000 $2,856,478
2019 $1,686,228 $846,601 $73,000 $2,605,829
Totals $54,110,553 $42,649,988 $3,659,000 $100,419,541

All revenue figures include both civil and criminal forfeitures. Revenues are not adjusted for inflation.

Iowa's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

C

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

A

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

F

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

B

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

F

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

F

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

Forfeitures Under Iowa Law: Key Facts

Median Value

$900

From 2015 to 2019, half of Iowa’s currency forfeitures were worth less than $900.

Property Types

From 2000 to 2019, more than eight out of every 10 forfeitures in Iowa were of currency.

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

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

Expenditures

UNKNOWN

Iowa expenditure data were not used for this report.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

Property-level forfeiture proceeds data were obtained from the state of Iowa’s data portal and via public records request to the Iowa Attorney General. Proceeds are in fiscal years and represent only forfeited money and sales of real property. The AG does not track other property. 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: Weak conviction provision does not require conviction of an owner, but only “a conviction” of any person—and only for forfeitures of property worth less than $5,000 and only when a claim is filed. After the conviction provision is satisfied, prosecutors must show that the property is subject to forfeiture by clear and convincing evidence.

Iowa Code Ann. §§ 809A.1(4), 809A.12A(1), (1)(a), (1)(d), (8), 809A.13(7).

Innocent owner burden: Government.

Iowa Code §§ 809A.12(7), .13(7).

Financial incentive: 100%.

Iowa Code § 809A.17.

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