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Rhode Island

Rhode Island

Rhode Island earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws:

Standard of Proof

Low bar to forfeit: Once the government seizes property, the owner must prove by preponderance of the evidence that it is not connected to a crime.

Innocent Owner Burden

Poor protections for the innocent: Third-party owners must prove their own innocence to recover seized property.

Financial Incentive

Large profit incentive: 90% 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

  • None.

Recommendations

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

State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019

Between 2000 and 2018, Rhode Island law enforcement agencies forfeited nearly $31 million under state law. Between 2000 and 2019, they generated an additional $240 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $271 million in forfeiture revenue. Rhode Island ranks 51st 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 $271 million in state and federal forfeiture revenue
2000–2019

Year Rhode Island Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total
2000 $1,303,658 $673,840 $8000 $1,985,498
2001 $2,187,259 $321,372 $673,000 $3,181,631
2002 $2,527,312 $549,664 $45,000 $3,121,976
2003 $2,201,591 $755,538 $12,000 $2,969,129
2004 $1,183,755 $1,527,027 -$539,000 $2,171,782
2005 $2,207,836 $683,856 $584,000 $3,475,692
2006 $1,852,200 $1,015,913 $6,000 $2,874,113
2007 $1,167,460 $1,935,590 $6,000 $3,109,050
2008 $1,582,271 $1,583,601 $63,000 $3,228,872
2009 $1,573,170 $1,275,925 $0 $2,849,095
2010 $970,494 $1,178,837 $98,000 $2,247,331
2011 $1,323,918 $4,387,537 $0 $5,711,455
2012 $2,014,971 $923,224 $89,000 $3,027,195
2013 $1,249,259 $86,689,838 $132,000 $88,071,097
2014 $1,329,324 $17,026,355 $27,000 $18,382,679
2015 $1,709,221 $9,142,696 $36,000 $10,887,917
2016 $979,961 $29,296,175 $67,000 $30,343,136
2017 $1,297,226 $23,493,801 $43,000 $24,834,027
2018 $2,280,313 $52,242,796 $39,000 $54,562,109
2019 Unavailable $4,813,276 $58,000 $4,871,276
Totals $30,941,199 $239,516,861 $1,447,000 $271,905,060

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

Rhode Island's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

D

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

F

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

B

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

D

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 Rhode Island Law: Key Facts

Median Value

UNKNOWN

Rhode Island does not report property-level data necessary to calculate median forfeiture value.

Property Types

UNKNOWN

Rhode Island does not report the types of property forfeited.

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

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

Expenditures

UNKNOWN

Rhode Island does not report how forfeiture funds are spent.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

Agency-level forfeiture data were obtained via public records requests to the Rhode Island Attorney General. The calendar-year figures purport to represent total value of forfeited 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: The government must show probable cause for the seizure, and the owner must show that the property is not forfeitable by a preponderance of the evidence.

21 R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-5.04.2(p).

Innocent owner burden: Owner.

21 R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-5.04.2(p).

Financial incentive: 90%.

21 R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-5.04(b)(3).

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