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

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 is found not guilty, they could still lose their property in civil court unless they can 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.

The measure authored by Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, and Rep. Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis, was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and Institute for Justice. It  received some pushback from law enforcement who said they were concerned that it could be ripe for abuse. But it received widespread approval from lawmakers. The bill passed the house 120-0 and the Senate 55-5.

Advocates say the state was ripe for reform. The laws have become a growing source of cash for law enforcement agencies and were famously abused by the now-defunct Metro Gang Strike Force, which paid out $840,000 in settlements to ¬victims who had their property illegally seized.

“No one acquitted in criminal court should lose his property in civil court,” said Lee McGrath, legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice, one of the advocates for this legislation. “This change makes Minnesota’s law consistent with the great American presumption that a person and his property are innocent until proven guilty.”

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