Asset forfeiture is seen as one of the weightiest abuses of power. In this case, the victims are property owners who are neither charged nor convicted of committing criminal offenses. As long as you are subject to investigation and prosecution in a white-collar crime case, the DEA, FBI, or DOJ can seize your property. This could be personal property like vehicles, planes, bank accounts, boats, etc.
When the federal government takes over your property’s control, they strip you of the title of ownership. Fortunately, you can count on an asset forfeiture attorney if you need their services. Go for an attorney who understands the deadlines and the legal requirements in place when contesting asset seizure and forfeiture. An expert in the field can help reduce the risk of permanent denial of your property. For the best possible outcome, contact an asset forfeiture attorney immediately after receiving a Notice of Forfeiture from the FBI, ATF, DE, IRS, or any other federal agency.
New Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture Nationwide
Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.) is an open-minded congressman who has been at the forefront of pushing for criminal justice reforms. His first bill aimed to quash qualified immunity, which protects public officials from being held accountable for violating the people’s civil rights. The congressman’s most recent bill condemns presidents, congress, and the judiciary for their failure to acknowledge and diminish the illegitimate practice of civil asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture allows the government to take over the ownership of someone’s property, even if they are not charged or convicted of wrongdoing. Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.) introduced a bill on 17th Dec 2020 to end this, mainly when the police base asset seizure solely on suspicion.
Records show that since 2000, the state has forfeited over $68 billion worth of property on the grounds that they were allegedly connected with illegal activities. Even property owners not indicated during investigations or those that were acquitted have not received their property back. Typically, the police deposit the worth of these properties into the slush funds of their departments.
Amash stated that civil asset forfeiture is integrally flawed. This is merely a misused practice that denies citizens of their procedural rights. The new bill aims to stop the violation of citizens’ rights on state and federal levels. Hopefully, this will also help repair the frayed relationship between the public and the police.
Amash's bill categorically stops asset forfeiture nationwide by stating that in the United States, no person shall be required to give up their personal, real estate, or any other form of property to federal agencies in the name of the civil forfeiture proceeding. The bill also prohibits the government from seizing assets from defendants unless convicted of certain wrongdoings.
Reintroduction of the Bill to Abolish “Nonjudicial” Civil Forfeiture
Rand Paul, Kentucky's junior senator, reintroduced policy proposals that touch on civil liberties amid calls for policing reforms. His goal was to resurrect a bill that makes it hard, if not impossible, for the police to seize property belonging to citizens who are yet to be convicted of crimes. This happened shortly after George Floyd’s killing, where the senator tabled the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act. Passing the bill would enact the abolishment of federal civil forfeiture laws. This would potentially redress a host of problems allied with civil forfeiture and enforce an end to its abuse.
Nonjudicial civil forfeiture allows the government to confiscate property belonging to suspects, even before filing criminal charges. In any case, victims of these laws can permanently lose their property way before a judge reviews the case. The most unfortunate bit is that the seizing agency and not an impartial judicial review dictate the snatched property’s fate.
Any form of property can be seized, including cryptocurrency, furniture, antiques, jewelry, art, and even bank accounts. When this happens, the administrative forfeiture automatically kicks in unless the defendant attempts to challenge a seizure. A good number of citizens won’t fight, especially if a property costs less than the cost of seeking legal representation.
According to Senator Paul, the federal government outrightly allows government agencies to grab and take advantage of the seized property. The FAIR Act seeks to advocate for the Fifth Amendment to restrict government agencies from profiting from American citizens’ properties without due process. Unless the court orders a defendant to surrender the proceeds of criminal activities, federal agencies will no longer have the power to abuse asset forfeiture laws.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s stand is that nonjudicial civil forfeiture prevents the burdening of the courts and should therefore be pursued whenever practical or possible. According to the department, this is a useful tool in fighting crime. Senator Mike Lee cosponsored the bill by stating that it is wrong for the federal government to seize its citizens’ property while denying them due process.
The FAIR Act restricts federal seizing agencies nationwide from conducting nonjudicial forfeitures. Property cannot be seized in the absence of judicial involvement. This bill proposes judicial oversight and hence reinforces the rights of the defendants during civil forfeiture cases. In short, it sets higher standards where the government must prove that a defendant (property owner) was well aware of the illegal involvement of a specific property. Judicial involvement also means that the government will provide legal counsel for property owners who cannot afford to hire a private lawyer.
There are awkward incentives that motivate federal agencies to grab the property of aspects. They include the possibility of forfeiture proceeds being redirected to the Treasury’s General Fund. This means that even when the circumstances are unfair, some agencies will still proceed to seize property with the hopes of padding their department budgets.
Senator Angus King, the FAIR Act’s co-sponsor, noted that financial motivations affect the decision-making process when handling civil asset forfeiture cases. Reforms are necessary to mitigate the risk of agencies losing focus on the main goal—the pursuit of justice.
Purpose of Asset Forfeiture and Current Reforms Trends
For most citizens who have never brushed shoulders with the authorities, asset forfeiture laws come as a complete shocker. The police can raid you one day and take your property even if you are never convicted of wrongdoing. While this may sound like an impossible fantasy from a non-existent universe, it happens in modern America.
Civil asset forfeiture occurs when the government takes over property ownership assumed to be obtained through illegal activities. This property can be lost permanently even if you never plead guilty to a crime or are never convicted. While the authorities feel that this is a necessary tool that weakens criminal organizations, most citizens think this is no different from highway robbery. They have even dubbed the practice "policing for profit.”
Forfeiture Reform Trends
Asset forfeiture reforms are quickly gaining momentum across the United States. This is because practices allowed under forfeiture laws are seen to be nothing more than revenue-generating systems. Additionally, these practices violate innocent citizens’ constitutional rights, more so those who are never charged or convicted for wrongdoing.
Guidelines to Help You Regain Forfeited Property
Civil asset forfeiture allows the police to seize property suspected to be used in a crime. Usually, the authorities can confiscate property even if it doesn’t belong to the person suspected of wrongdoing. To regain possession of any seized property, one has to go through a process that involves the police proving they had probable cause to assume the assets in question are allied with criminal activities.
How Do The Authorities Decide When To Seize Property?
The courts make all-rounded considerations to determine whether a property is affiliated with a crime and whether it should be forfeited. For instance, the police will automatically seize a car they catch transporting drugs.
While some cases are straightforward, others are not. For example, the police can also decide to seize a car belonging to a drug dealer because they believe it was bought using criminal activity proceeds.
Moreover, it is allowed for the police to assume things in certain instances. In a scenario where they find money close to drugs, the authorities may believe it is related to drug activities. Similarly, persons charged with several drug felonies may have possessions gained between one felony and another seized because the police will assume they were acquired using drug activity proceeds.
How to Regain Your Property
Once the police seize your property, all is not lost. This is more so if you can prove that you were not aware of any criminal activity and did not take part in it. With our help, you can demonstrate that you:
- Have no personal affiliations with a particular criminal activity
- Didn’t take part in the criminal conduct at any point
- Had no involvement or knowledge of the ongoing criminal activities
- Didn’t gain from the criminal activities
- Have no plans of regaining your property for the benefit of the criminal activities
- Had no idea that property purchased was already seized by the police
Usually, it takes 14 days for the courts to justify the probable cause of seizing your property. During a preliminary review, the police table evidence showing your knowledge or involvement in criminal activity. Your best chances of regaining your property are to enlist our services at this point.
Here is what to expect next:
Step1: Issuance of a Notice
Following the preliminary hearing, the courts will notify you of what will happen to your property. The notice will contain information such as:
- Which property was seized and its estimated value
- When it was seized and where it was taken
- Why your asset is subject to forfeiture
- The due process of regaining the property
- The rights you have and can uphold during the process
The police will send you this notice via certified mail or personal service if they know your current address. If this is not possible, the notice is published in the newspaper for about three weeks. We recommend making your current address known immediately after the commandeering of your assets. The idea is to increase your chances of receiving the notice promptly and responding to it. Beware that failure to respond to the notice in 45 days leads to automatic permanent seizure of your property.
Step 2: Responding To the Notice
The right response to give for notice of forfeiture will depend on the confiscated property, its worth, and the implied criminal activities. When the seized property is worth a fortune, the courts begin filing a claim on your behalf, making it unnecessary for you to start the filing process.
In case you are not dealing with assets worth a lot of money, such as a building or house, then you need to file a claim and include the following information:
- Your name and address
- The caption of proceedings as indicated on the notice
- Your interest in the property
- When and how you acquired the property
- The names of other parties interested in the property
- Facts that prove your lack of knowledge or involvement in a criminal activity
- Your interest in regaining your property
When you file the claim, you must also post a bond of $100 or 10% of the seized property’s estimated value, whichever is greater. The bond shows that you agree to settle all expenses of the forfeiture should you lose the case. Typically, 90% of the bond is refunded if you win a forfeiture case. If you lose, the bond money is lost.
You can fill out an Affidavit of Indigency and file it if you cannot afford to pay the bond.
The State's Attorney has 45 days to file a complaint in response to your claim. Again, you have 45 days to file your answer. Failure to respond within this timeframe may lead to the permanent seizure of your property.
Step3: Prepare For a Hearing
Once you file your answer, the courts will schedule a hearing within 60 days. The State will be first to take the stand and will demonstrate probable cause for seizing your assets. You can then take the stand and explain that authorities shouldn’t hold your property because you had no knowledge or involvement in criminal activity. As long as your response offers a higher standard of proof than the probable cause, there is a good chance the courts will issue back your property.
Step 4: Continuances
If the police don’t show up for the first hearing, the judge will reschedule the case for another date. If the police still don’t show up, then the case will be dismissed, and your property returned.
How Long Does a Forfeiture Case Take?
A forfeiture case may take a few months or several years. Because the courts are often backlogged, it makes better sense to plan for a lengthy tussle and hope for the best. It remains crucial to understand that while it is not mandatory to have an attorney, most people who opt to represent themselves end up holding the short end of the stick.
Best Defenses for Forfeiture Cases
Asset forfeiture cases are complex. Even when you can table evidence showing your lack of knowledge or involvement in criminal activity, you will likely face some serious resistance from the police. There are a few defenses that can strengthen your claim and increase your chances of regaining your property. These defenses include:
The Innocent Owner
We can gather evidence to prove you had no idea about your property’s illegal use and you didn’t consent to its illicit use.
The Defense Has Unreasonable Delays
Sometimes, the government takes too long to file a case or to bring it to trial. In such an instance, you win if you can prove that the delays are unjustified and excessive.
Illegal Search and Seizure
Asset forfeiture happens during the investigations of a criminal case. Under criminal litigation laws, the defendant can suppress evidence if it was illegally obtained.
Among the prime reasons you need an attorney is because there are unique statutory defenses that only apply in specific circumstances. It takes a skilled and dependable asset forfeiture lawyer to know which statutes are likely to come in handy during your case.
For the forfeiture of property to be deemed constitutional, the seized property should be proportionate to the offense committed. If it’s not, then the police cannot justify forfeiting your property.
Find an Asset Forfeiture Attorney Near Me
Even in the wake of a new bill to end civil asset forfeiture nationwide, federal forfeiture statutes remain complex and overly detailed. That is why you need a skilled and competent asset forfeiture attorney in your corner to fight for your rights and best interests, and the Asset Forfeiture Attorney team will do just that. Depending on your case’s unique circumstances, we could opt to file a petition for mitigation or pursue a judicial resolution. As the government works to prove that you obtained your property using proceeds of illicit crimes, we will strive to prove your innocence or actively trace monies used to acquire your properties to legitimate business activities. For consultation and case evaluation, contact us at 888-571-5590.