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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 07 May 2014

-Acquittal Now Protects Against Asset Forfeiture in Minnesota


LawBooksJust days ago, we brought you news of the case of Brainerd, Minnesota resident Adam Bush, unanimously acquitted of burglary charges. In spite of this unanimous judgment by the jury, the judge in the case ruled that the state would still keep his property that had been seized. That may have been one of the last such rulings in Minnesota, whose governor just yesterday signed into law a measure supported by the ACLU of Minnesota and the Institute for Justice curtailing the abusive practice of asset forfeiture.

Minnesota police can no longer keep seized property after an acquittal

Minnesota police can no longer keep property and cash seized in drug cases when there is no criminal conviction under a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Previously, police or sheriffs could keep property, vehicles and cash seized in drug cases or drive-by shootings — regardless of the outcome of the criminal case. If a suspect was found not guilty, they could still lose their property in civil court unless they were able to prove it was not involved in a crime.

The new law, set to take effect Aug. 1, requires prosecutors to return the property if there is no criminal conviction associated with the seizure.

This measure leaves open the door for asset forfeiture in other cases—not only those involving outright criminal convictions, but also other situations such as stays of adjudication and diversion programs. Nonetheless, it is a big improvement at least that if one is declared Not Guilty by a jury of one’s peers, a judge may not unilaterally overrule that with respect to and the police may no longer profit off of one’s property stolen under color of law by the state.

This includes not only cases where defendants are found Not Guilty because all of the jurors believed the prosecution had not proven a violation of the law beyond a reasonable doubt, but also in cases where defendants are conscientiously acquitted by jury nullification. Significantly, many cases that are subject to asset forfeiture, such as non-violent drug-related offenses regarding possession, use, or sale of illegal substances are the sorts of cases where jurors are more likely to consider exercising jury nullification.