No charges required: Police in Utah seized $2.2 million in cash under civil forfeiture law

Stock image | Photo by Shawn_hempel/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah police seized about $2.2 million in cash last year under a law allowing authorities to take someone’s property even if they aren’t charged or convicted of a crime, a state report showed.

The 2017 report on state asset forfeiture showed virtually all of the money and other assets seized by police came in drug investigations.

In 13 percent of the cases, no criminal charges were filed.

The report, released by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, showed an increase in cash seized by state police over previous years, likely due to a few large incidents, the commission said.

In addition to the cash, police also seized an additional $401,000 worth of property, including several cars and hundreds of gambling machines.

After assets were taken by authorities, roughly $687,000 was routed back to law enforcement and drug courts.

Civil asset forfeiture laws in states across the country have been criticized by civil liberties advocates who say they can be abused by police to shake down suspected criminals without having to file charges. Three states —North Carolina, New Mexico and Nebraska — outlaw civil asset forfeiture entirely and 11 require a criminal conviction for forfeiture proceedings to begin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Law enforcement agencies say the laws can be critical to dismantling large-scale criminal operations and drug networks while also helping authorities fund key programs or buy equipment.

The average amount of cash seized by Utah authorities in a given case was $1,000. Authorities seized as little as $50 and as much as $910,000 in a single incident.

That relatively low average disturbed Connor Boyack, president of libertarian-leaning nonprofit group Libertas Institute, who has pushed to limit asset forfeiture in Utah.

“It creates huge financial disincentive for somebody to hire an attorney and pay several thousands of dollars to try and fight a forfeiture of such a small amount of property,” he said.

More than one-third of the seizures were reported by the Salt Lake Police Department, though 24 state and local agencies reported making at least one forfeiture.

In 2016 this file photo, police demonstrate techniques and tactical gear at the police shooting and training range in St. George, Utah, April 14, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

After assets are seized, they are placed into a state fund which can then be used to distribute grants to law enforcement services. In 2017 grants were given to state and local agencies for a variety of task forces and to pay for equipment and training such as body cameras, rifles and riot gear.

In addition to the money seized by state officials, Utah agencies also received $1.1 million from federal agencies that seized property from people in the state, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

A case in which a Utah man has challenged police seizure of $500,000 during a 2016 traffic stop is currently pending at the Utah Supreme Court. The man, Kyle Savely, was not charged with anything except a traffic violation and claims that police went around the law to take his money.

Written by JULIAN HATTEM, Associated Press.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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  • DRT July 8, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    This is nothing more than legalized theft. I’ve no use for dopers or crooks in general.
    And when assets are forfeited to any government agency, without a court order, how can this be anything other than theft?

  • Fester July 8, 2018 at 6:28 pm

    LEO at all levels are little more than the best armed criminal gangs in the land. Running protection rackets and shaking down the peasants to provide revenue for the lawyers that rule over us.

  • ladybugavenger July 8, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    It is theft wrapped up with a law and a bow.

    • Jaybird July 8, 2018 at 8:21 pm

      Obama stole through tax hikes, Obamacare, and giving welfare to illegals. Why is no one complaining about that?

      • mesaman July 8, 2018 at 9:27 pm

        Maybe it’s because the other commenters have something in their own closets that they would prefer to keep hidden.

      • ladybugavenger July 9, 2018 at 7:24 am

        The article wasnt about obama. I cant mention all the theft. So I will just say, the entire government steals from its citizens, with a law, wrapped up with a bow. From fines, fees, taxes, civil forfeiture, DCFS, etc..

        Here in oklahoma the teachers got a raise and cigarettes went up a dollar to pay for the raise. So only the smokers are paying for teacher raises. Doesnt seam fair to single out a group of people. I hope smokers will buy less cigarettes.

        • Jaybird July 9, 2018 at 8:57 am

          Nope, but somehow you always bring up Trump in unrelated articles…

          • Paul Dail July 9, 2018 at 9:26 am

            Jaybird, please refrain from changing your screen name to pretend to be other commenters.

            St. George News

          • ladybugavenger July 9, 2018 at 10:50 am

            Fake jaybird, since you brought up Trump I’ll say this: I didnt for one second Mexico would pay for a wall, but I voted for a wall anyways. Stop fighting against this. Build the wall!

          • ladybugavenger July 9, 2018 at 10:54 am

            *believe (do not, I repeat, do not buy a Samsung galaxy phone)

            Hey, heres an idea, we could get all the illegals to build the wall, cheap labor, then in return, we give them cotizenship

  • jaltair July 8, 2018 at 8:50 pm

    Utah Supreme Court will hopefully find that what is happening with that law is in violation of individual’s rights, It could go on to a District Federal Court to be heard as a Civil Rights Violation I would think. This law is just plain wrong and Utah won’t want to give it up because Utah gets the “extra” monies.

  • bikeandfish July 8, 2018 at 9:05 pm

    This another example of how far Utah deviates from “conservative” when it benefits the state with little risk. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for law enforcement to watch organized crime prosper without enough evidence to prosecute but this type of forfeiture is just unAmerican.

    • Jaybird July 9, 2018 at 5:36 am

      To be honest I have to Google most of the words because I don’t understand them. Go Trump!!!!

      • Paul Dail July 9, 2018 at 9:27 am

        Jaybird, please refrain from changing your screen name to pretend to be other commenters.

        St. George News

        • bikeandfish July 9, 2018 at 9:49 am

          Thanks for the diligence and edit.

          • No Filter July 9, 2018 at 11:12 am

            I have been out lately, what did he change his name to anyway?

          • bikeandfish July 9, 2018 at 12:40 pm


            He tried my name once. Not sure if he just it or tried to spoof others as well.

          • IPFreely July 9, 2018 at 5:33 pm

            Bunch a whiny liberals…

        • No Filter July 9, 2018 at 11:09 am

          Thanks for watching out Paul, I say stuff that offends most in southern Utah, but I own it. Sounds like someone needs banned from the comments section. Besides Jaybird, John will still call you names no matter what you change it your name to in the comments.

          • IPFreely July 9, 2018 at 2:31 pm

            Does the name calling hurt your feelings? Suck it up buttercup!

          • No Filter July 9, 2018 at 4:02 pm

            Doesn’t bother me, but with a name like yours my guess is you can only pee freely with a catheter.

          • IPFreely July 9, 2018 at 5:35 pm

            Nice comeback! I know you are but what am I? Hahaha idiot

          • comments July 10, 2018 at 1:42 pm

            yep, this IPF clown really needs to go

    • desertgirl July 9, 2018 at 12:07 pm

      bandf, this is the result of out of control power the liberal left has given government. The biggest offender is the pesky Feds. Another example of why we need limited small government; living as the Republic we are supposed to be.

      • bikeandfish July 9, 2018 at 1:45 pm

        If you show me evidence of where liberals are responsible for this issue in Utah I will be duly amazed. We are talking about one of the most conservative states in the Union wholeheartedly using this technique.

      • bikeandfish July 9, 2018 at 1:50 pm

        A quick investigation exposes a history that contradicts your claims.

        “The politics of civil forfeiture were somewhat unusual. The federal forfeiture laws were introduced and pushed through by Republicans in the 1980s, with support from some Democrats; but efforts to reform forfeiture laws have also come from the right,[13] as libertarians in Congress have focused on the basic idea as offensive to property rights.[13] In many areas civil forfeiture adversely affects persons from minorities and low-income communities, in which the typical seizure is less than $500, and Democrats have also been critical of civil forfeiture programs.[13] The ACLU has also been a long time opponent.[13]”


        Holder actually reduced the federal role in 2015 while Trump expanded it last year. Its a remnant of the republican war on drugs.

        • IPFreely July 9, 2018 at 5:36 pm

          Nice source! Wiki is always credible and a go to for all scholarly publications to reference… did you write that entry yourself?

          • bikeandfish July 9, 2018 at 7:51 pm

            If you can refute the claims then do so. If not then I will just consider your comment trash like normal. Would love to see how its wrong.

          • IPFreely July 9, 2018 at 9:18 pm

            Try having more than once source. Other than wiki. Why should I have to confirm your stupidity

          • bikeandfish July 9, 2018 at 11:30 pm

            Glad to know you are totally fine with irrational and illogical approach to proof of a claim.

            Historical record about civil asset forfeiture stands as supported unless you can show the sourced claim is false. Just claiming you don’t trust Wikipedia isn’t evidence of falsification.

      • comments July 9, 2018 at 5:34 pm

        dg is delusional as usual. Hiding behind every bush there is “a librul” just waiting to jump out and get her! Plus, every problem she has ever had in life was caused by “libruls”. Just ask her.

  • justsaying July 8, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    In the old west you were robbed by gunpoint by a guy wearing a mask on a horse, now they’re unmasked, still carrying a gun, and driving a Ford or a Charger.

  • youcandoit July 8, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    This is double standard I can understand if they’re guilty of the crimes but seriously they’re stealing from the innocent come on that could be their grocery money but they can arrest you from receiving stolen property. So if I buy at a yard sale I need to get a cop to check out before if it’s stolen? Hmmmm stupid waste of time. But it saves me just in case

  • NickDanger July 9, 2018 at 6:12 am

    This is a national problem, not just a Utah problem. And it’s a HUGE problem the more you think about it – government agents literally stealing from citizens with no consequences, publicly and openly.

    But do you see any protests? Do you see any citizen action? Nope. Why? Because the only people who care about this problem, REALLY care, are people who have been victims of law enforcement actually stealing their money. Hundreds of people maybe? A few thousand? That’s just not enough to bring about institutional change.

    A lot of problems in this country get solved, but only when a large group of people protest government behavior. Women’s rights happened. Black rights happened. Gay marriage happened. Environmental issues get addressed. Because enough people stepped up and said this is what they demanded.

    But as long as people just sit back and let this legalized thievery happen – based on the fact that “it will never happen to me because I just won’t ever carry large sums of cash around,” along with that ever-so-slight suspicion that anyone with a large amount of cash in their possession must be doing something wrong – it will continue to happen. History proves one thing: The government will do to its citizens whatever it can get away with. If it could get away with a 90% income tax, it would, it’s the nature of government to always seek to empower itself further.

    So if you have a real problem with this behavior by our law enforcement, do something about it. Write a letter. Get involved. Start something. I’ve heard nothing but griping and whining about this legal government thievery for years now.

  • Larry July 9, 2018 at 8:07 am

    When is the phase “To Protect and Serve” painted on the side of patrol cars, going to be replaced by a much more appropriate symbol? I’m thinking a “Jolly Roger” flag flying from the antenna. Policing is all about the revenue.

    • ladybugavenger July 9, 2018 at 10:42 am

      How about to terrorize and enslave? Haha, saw that in a movie.

      • desertgirl July 9, 2018 at 12:10 pm

        Don’t call them at any time. Take care of it yourself.

        • ladybugavenger July 9, 2018 at 1:51 pm

          Luckily, the only time I’ve called them in the 2 years in my neighborhood was when my neighbor was yelling call 911…..geeeeze, all I wanted to do was water my lawn *p.s. I dont water my lawn anymore

        • ladybugavenger July 9, 2018 at 1:58 pm

          I dont even pull my weeds in my flower bed this year. My neighbors just want to talk and pull me out of my zone. Screw it! I just swim in my pool in the backyard now.

          • IPFreely July 9, 2018 at 5:37 pm

            Kiddie pool?

          • ladybugavenger July 9, 2018 at 6:37 pm

            Just about. A big kiddie pool. About 11,000 gallons and 4 ft deep. No diving lol

    • desertgirl July 9, 2018 at 12:09 pm

      Remember that if and when you are misfortunate enough to need officers to come to your aid. Simpleton.

  • Brian July 9, 2018 at 8:39 am

    Civil asset forfeiture is just plain theft and evil. And it’s only increasing. The fact that the same agency doing the theft gets to keep the money makes things much worse. The IRS is horrible with CAF.

    It’s a huge and widespread problem and it needs to stop. We can and should fight for that in the state of Utah, but the best place for it to happen is SCOTUS.

  • Kilroywashere July 9, 2018 at 10:04 am

    With the exception of J bird, I found the comments herein well said. I agree with the consensus, and although as somebody mentioned, you won’t see public protests etc, this comment section is public record and has an impact in terms of influence, especially when ideas are exchanged with clarity and insight. You never know who peruses the SG news underbelly. Well done folks.

  • Not_So_Much July 9, 2018 at 11:28 am

    It’s one thing if you are found guilty of a crime, but not even charged is so wrong. This has to change.

  • bikeandfish July 10, 2018 at 12:34 am

    To those interested in learning more about the federal laws:

    One of the most relevant bills was S.1762 – Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984:

    This was a bill created by Republican Strom Thurmond. But to be fair, it had equatable support amongst Democrat and Republican co-sponsors. Ultimately signed by the Holy Republican Saint himself, Reagan. Seems to have been a fairly popular bill that received large support in Senate (78-11) and House (252-60). Spectre, Hatch and Stevens, all having established conservative careers, all voted in favor. But this was definitely a prominent tool for Reagan’s over-reaching and large government “War of Drugs” programs.

    The 2000 reform bill CAFRA received similar bipartisan support.

    Per Trump’s and Session’s stance: “As any of these law enforcement partners will tell you and as President Trump knows well, civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime”. They did in fact reverse an Obama era policy that “prevented local law enforcement from circumventing state restrictions on civil forfeiture” via federal law definitions.

    If you disagree with the practice there have been bills introduced again but they haven’t had any further action in over a year. Call your Reps and Senators.

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