Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Asset Forfeiture is an often ruthless legal process through which the state or federal government first confiscates and then seeks to permanently seize private property - such as cash, bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, boats, planes, or other personal property - from citizens. Often, the government literally takes everything a person owns thus depriving him or her of financial means of defending his or her case. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of federal and state statutes which trigger asset forfeiture. These statutes allow the government to seize property by proving that there is a connection between the property which the government seeks to confiscate and some illegal activity. The connection between the property and the illegal activity does not have to be substantial; it is often sufficient for the government to seize the property after it shows a certain level of "probable cause" to believe that the property and illegal activity are linked. Alas, the government often gains the property simply by doing nothing when the rightful owners do not act in time by hiring the right asset forfeiture attorney and claiming their property rights.
In recent years, both California and federal government have used a wide variety of statutes to seize and ultimately confiscate personal and real property from American citizens. The most common misconception is that the confiscation and forfeiture of property affects only those accused of crimes. This is not the case often people who have not been arrested, let alone criminally charged, have been forced to forfeit their possessions to state and federal agents including considerable amounts of money, cash, real estate, vehicles and various other property. Asset forfeiture laws often make it legal for the government to seize property from people who are completely innocent of any wrongdoing or crime. Because the government will undoubtedly use any trick possible against you in order to seize the property, it is therefore extremely important that you immediately contact skilled, aggressive and dedicated asset forfeiture attorneys such as Jacek W. Lentz and his law firm.
Federal forfeiture laws alone consist of hundreds of statutes and dozens of forfeiture categories relating to specific crimes such as drug trafficking and other controlled substances crimes, marijuana cultivation, tax evasion, money laundering, forgery and pornography. In California, similarly to the federal law, the state law enables the government to take your property under such statutes as The California Control of Profits of Organized Crime (California Penal Code §186), or California Health and Safety §11470(e), which allows forfeiture of controlled substances as well as any money, equipment or vehicles linked to possession of such substances.
Depending upon the specific facts of your case, you might have a strong defense against the forfeiture. Various viable defenses exist in California and under the federal law or the laws of many other states. Your defense might consist of the so-called third party "innocent owner" defense if you can show that the owner was not aware that the property was illegally obtained or, for example, that the owner of a rental property did not know that a tenant was using the property for an illegal activity. For example, with the help of a skilled asset forfeiture attorney, you might be able to prevent the forfeiture of your vehicle if you can show there is a co-owner such as an innocent spouse and the vehicle is used for the needs of your immediate family. Similarly, a family residence co-owned by an innocent person or spouse without knowledge of any unlawful use can be protected even when the owner was convicted for using the property to manufacture, distribute or possess controlled substances for sale. Even in a situation where you cannot prove your innocence, i.e., you can not show a lack of connection to the tainted property or any wrongdoing, you still have rights and you still might be able to beat your case. A competent asset forfeiture lawyer might be able to destroy the government's case and get your confiscated property returned.
Other possible defenses include the argument that the value of the forfeited property is disproportionate to the crime alleged. A successful defense of your case might also be based on evidence provided by you or forensic accountants showing that your property was purchased with legitimate funds. Your first step is always to immediately consult asset forfeiture lawyers who have the relevant asset forfeiture experience and are not afraid of challenging the government's claim in federal or state court.
Obtaining Legal Advice From the Right Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If the government seizes and seeks to forfeit your property, seek legal advice early. The forfeiture process has crucial deadlines and failure to respond and take the appropriate steps timely can be lethal to your ability to defend your rights in court and ultimately win your property back. Also, you should know that it is very risky to call to discuss or to negotiate your case with the prosecutors or the police on your own. It is very likely that the government representative will try to trick you into saying something which can and inevitably will be used against you; beware of the possibility that your words will be intentionally twisted and their meaning falsified by the cops, (especially "good cops"), or a prosecutor. Too often, in forfeiture and criminal cases, individuals make fateful regrettable mistakes while under the impression that they are helping themselves and their cause by talking to the police. Get legal advice before you decide to do anything. Reputable asset forfeiture attorneys will often provide you with legal advice at low cost or, as in the case of this law firm, entirely for free.
Perhaps the most important thing to know is that you must respond immediately to any notice that the government intends to go ahead with forfeiture proceedings to permanently confiscate your assets and property. In most situations, the time window for responding and informing the government that you intend to fight forfeiture in the court of law is very short, usually not more than 30 days. If you do not file a claim in time you will most likely lose your opportunity to get your property back. Courts and judges often take the position that, when it comes to getting your seized property back, if you snooze you lose.
Unfortunately, unlike in criminal cases where you would be entitled to a public defender, a citizen who decides to fight the government's asset forfeiture case does not have the right to a free lawyer. In an asset forfeiture case, an attorney will be appointed at public expense only in limited situations. For example, certain federal forfeiture actions under some state statutes might authorize legal representation at public expense. Certain federal forfeiture prosecutions under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Act of 2000 or CAFRA, the right to a free attorney is triggered in two situations: (1) whenever a primary residence involved and the homeowner cannot afford counsel and (2) when there is a pending federal criminal case against you. Some state asset forfeiture statutes also provide for free legal counsel.
Do not forget that you have rights too. Specifically, you have the right to protect your property against aggressive prosecutors and law enforcement agencies who too frequently benefit directly from what they have seized from you and who will devote significant effort and resources to fight you while giving little or no consideration to your actual wrongdoing or guilt.
Call us for a free and thorough consultation to evaluate the appropriate and viable strategies and solutions to your specific case. If needed, we will also explore with you cost effective options for defending your forfeiture case in court. Our law firm stands ready to fight for you in California and throughout the United States.