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MADISON - Responding to an inquiry from Polk County Assistant Corporation Counsel Malia Malone, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today issued a formal opinion concerning a law enforcement agency's disposition of seized money that may constitute contraband when the state has not sought the forfeiture of such money through judicial proceedings.
Van Hollen concluded that a law enforcement agency may not retain unclaimed contraband money for its own use. In the absence of an asset forfeiture proceeding initiated by the state or a judicial determination that the money constitutes contraband, a local law enforcement agency should dispose of the money as unclaimed property pursuant to Wis. Stat. 59.66(2).
Van Hollen stated that a law enforcement agency may not retain money seized during a criminal investigation, even if it believes that the money constitutes contraband, or the fruits of criminal activity. When a law enforcement agency seizes money that it believe to be contraband, Wisconsin law authorizes the state to commence an action to forfeit the contraband money. For any number of reasons, the state may decline or is unable to initiate a forfeiture proceeding against contraband in a timely manner. When the state has not filed a forfeiture action, a person from whom a law enforcement agency has seized money may petition the circuit court for its return. If the circuit court finds that the seized money is contraband, it may not return and instead must order it forfeited. In those cases where a person with an ownership interest does not seek its return, the agency should follow the appropriate procedures for disposal of unclaimed property.