If you are under suspicion of committing a drug trafficking or money laundering offense, police can seize your possessions (money, assets, or both). In civil property forfeiture, the police can detain your possessions even when you aren’t facing a criminal charge. Once this happens, you must learn how to retrieve your money back. Note that legal forfeiture processes are very different from normal civil processes. Thus, it may be a challenge to go through the processes alone.
For guidance and the best outcome of your case, it is advisable to find the help of a competent asset forfeiture attorney. Your attorney will do a lot for you, including advising and helping you go through all the legal processes that will enable you to retrieve your cash in full. An attorney that has experience in handling forfeiture cases is the right one to consider for the job.
Essential Steps in Retrieving Cash That the DEA has Seized
Asset forfeiture is one of the tools used by the United States in its battle against drug-related crimes and money laundering. So far, the tool has been effective in fighting drug abuse, stopping rogue pharmacists and doctors, dealing with drug dealers, and shutting down pill mills, among other major drug crimes. The idea is to attack the financial structure of money laundering and drug trafficking, starting from the minor offenders carrying drugs or cash to the top-level drug cartels. Asset forfeiture, especially civil forfeiture, has worked very well to stop drug offenses committed for profit. If you feel that you’ve been mistakenly targeted and would like to retrieve your cash after asset forfeiture by the DEA, take the following steps:
Find Out Important Details of the Forfeiture
It could be a challenge to retrieve an asset that the police have seized if you do not know the department that has held it. Therefore, the first step should be finding where your possessions could be and then determining the retrieval process. DEA is a federal enforcement agency, and so, yours might be a federal case. It will be easy for you to choose the process if you are sure that the DEA forfeited your cash. Note that even if the local police seized your money, they could hand it over to the DEA.
After determining that you are facing a federal cash forfeiture case, the retrieval process will begin with a civil complaint or notice of the forfeiture. The communications usually arrive through a listed mail. If you haven’t received any communications by the time you initiate the retrieval process, you can only wait. The current federal forfeiture laws do not allow property owners to file a civil claim in court to retrieve property seized by federal agencies. It is the federal government’s responsibility to start the process, and it must do it within a reasonable time.
If the government doesn’t initiate the retrieval process within a reasonable period, you can always use ‘unreasonable delay’ as a defense strategy when the time comes to defend your property against forfeiture. There is nothing much property owners can do to quicken the retrieval process except to call or write to the police with a request for them to begin the process from their end. When communicating with the police, it is advisable to be careful about the information you give to them, as that information might compromise your efforts to retrieve your cash.
Some of the precautions you can take while communicating with the police while initiating the retrieval process include:
- Write to them — writing to police officers will make it easy for you to only speak about your cash and not the underlying case. If you call, the police might ask you questions regarding the underlying matter, causing you to provide information that could compromise your situation further. Avoid talking about the underlying crime that could have caused the forfeiture and keep the conversation only about the forfeited money.
- Keep all details of your communication with the police — when you write to them, it becomes easy for you to keep copies of all the letters you will send. These copies could help when the time to defend your forfeited property comes.
Understand the Different Types of Forfeiture
Understanding the different types of forfeiture and the one that affects you will make it easy for you to determine the right course of action to retrieve your cash. There are mainly two types of forfeiture:
Judicial forfeiture—the office of the U.S Attorney initiates the judicial forfeiture process through filing a complaint against the seized property or filing criminal charges against the property owner for the offense behind the seizure. It mostly happens to real estate properties or assets valued at $500,000 or more, except in the following circumstances:
- Forfeiture is part of a defendant’s criminal charges. After the defendant’s conviction or plea agreement, the court will forfeit the property.
- The forfeiture is a legal proceeding that has been brought against the said property. In this case, the government must demonstrate a connection between the said property and a particular criminal offense, but a conviction is unnecessary.
Non-Judicial/administrative forfeiture—The DEA initiates the administrative forfeiture by mailing notice letters to the interested persons. It also advertises the seized assets on the internet. The DEA processes the forfeiture without necessarily going to court. The DEA will always use this type of forfeiture unless:
- There is a legal requirement for the said property to be forfeited judicially.
- The property owner files a valid claim, which changes the non-judicial forfeiture into a judicial process.
Understanding the different types of forfeiture prepares you for what lies ahead and could guide you in the steps you take next.
What To Do After Receiving Notice
As previously mentioned, you will receive a notification about the forfeiture soon after the DEA seizes your cash. The notice will come with a detailed procedure that you can follow to retrieve the money. However, the process can be confusing, especially if you are not familiar with the forfeiture laws. The critical part of the procedure is for you to obtain a hearing. The hearing allows you to defend your money. But before bringing a court hearing, you should prepare and submit an administrative claim by the given deadline and pay a cost bond if required.
A cost bond will guarantee payment of all cost expenses. It is a type of surety bond paid by plaintiffs who file actions within their states of residents or states where they do not reside. However, The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 has outlawed most cost bonds. But if the seizure involves the U.S Customs law, you might be required to pay a cost bond of at least 10% of the value of the property for which you have submitted a claim.
You could request a waiver of the cost bond if you don’t have any assets. But all information regarding the cost bond will be available in the notification you’ll receive from DEA.
It is important to note that cost bonds do not work the same as bail bonds. Paying a cost bond doesn’t guarantee the release of your cash before the trial. The cost bond will cater to the costs the government incurred for seizing and holding your money. If the case’s ruling is in your favor, you could retrieve the whole bond, but this is a decision that only a judge can make. If you don’t win the case, you might receive some of the bonds back, but after all the costs of storing your cash have been deducted.
Filing a Claim in Court
With all the information given in the notification, you should be able to file a claim in court, informing the court of your intentions to retrieve your seized cash. The notification gives you about 35 days from the day you receive your notification to file the claim. Take time to go through the forfeiture notice not to miss the deadline and other important details. The claim must be a sworn declaration under penalty of perjury. It must contain your interests in the said cash, for instance, whether you are the owner, co-owner, or even the lienholder of the money. It should also show how serious you are about retrieving the money.
The notification you receive from the DEA might also provide you with the option of filing an Appeal for Remission/Mitigation. The petition is a request to the government to pardon part of all the property from the forfeiture. You can choose to file or not to file this petition. The petition is granted by the government agency that has kept your cash, which, in this case, is the DEA. Only in rare cases will the DEA agree to give back the property without requiring the petitioner to go through a trial or appeal process.
Case Review by the Attorney’s Office
After your claim has been filed and the bond posted, the U.S Attorney’s office will review your case. If the office decides to go on with the forfeiture, they’ll file a petition with the District Court. They will then serve you with a complaint. It should be done within ninety days of receiving your administrative claim.
Once you receive the complaint, you will have about thirty days to submit a Verified Claim. A verified Claim is a declaration made under a penalty, stating your particular interests in the cash you intend to retrieve. It is a different issue from the previously-discussed administrative claim. After filing the verified claim, you’ll have twenty days within which you must submit an answer. Your answer will state if you admit, deny, or don’t have sufficient information to accept or decline the allegations provided in the complaint. You will then list down your defenses based on the answer you have provided.
Lastly, your answer will contain a request to have a trial. Without this demand, you‘ll not be granted one. A trial will allow you to defend the cash the DEA has seized. With proper defense, the court might be compelled to give you back all your money.
However, you have to be careful with the type of information you provide in all these documents. The police or DEA can use any information you provide against you, which could frustrate your efforts to retrieve your money.
Additionally, going through these processes with the help of an experienced asset forfeiture attorney could ease your burden, speed up the process and improve your chance of obtaining a favorable outcome.
Remember that in all legal processes, your rights must be protected against violation. The law gives you a right to fight for any asset that the Government forfeits. A competent attorney will ensure that the correct procedure is followed and your best interests are safeguarded all through.
Fighting the Forfeiture
As previously mentioned, you should include your defenses in the Verified Claim you submit last, in the process of retrieving your cash. Some of the defenses that could work to ensure that you recover all your money include:
You are the Innocent Owner
The main reason for asset forfeiture is if there is a strong belief that the said asset was used or about to be used for the commission of a felony. If that is not the case, then DEA has no reason to continue keeping the money. However, you must provide sufficient evidence to support the claim that you are the innocent owner of the seized money. You must demonstrate that you were not aware, were not part of or, or didn’t consent to the unlawful use of that money. If your defense is accepted, you’ll win your case and might receive your money back.
Unreasonable Delay by the DEA
You can cite unreasonable delay to obtain the court’s favor in your effort to reclaim your money. This defense can be used if the DEA took a longer time than required to initiate the retrieval process. Remember that the government is required to begin the retrieval process immediately after the seizure. Within that period, there is nothing much you can do other than to wait. In case of an excessive or unjustified delay, the court might be compelled to order the release of your cash.
Illegal Search & Seizure
Law enforcement officers are required by law to obtain a detailed search warrant before conducting a search and seizure operation on anyone suspected of engaging in criminal activities. Without a valid search warrant, a search and seizure operation on your person or property will be deemed illegal. The police must also list down details of all properties seized and the reason for the seizure.
If you feel that the police operation that led to the seizure of your money was not legal, you can use it as a defense to have your money back. Provide details of how the police conducted the search and seizure and why, in your opinion, you feel that it was illegal. If the strategy is accepted, the law compels the DEA to give your money back.
You could use this defense if you feel that the money seized by the DEA is not, in any way, connected to the charges you are facing. Provide sufficient details and proof to accompany the defense to improve your chances of winning the case. The DEA is not authorized to forfeit any property that is not connected to a particular criminal case.
It helps a lot to work alongside an experienced asset forfeiture attorney. Your attorney will ensure that you are not missing out on any defense that could help your case. Your attorney will also work hard to protect your rights and ensure that all the documents are well prepared and filed on time.
If these processes are followed well, you might win the case and have your cash returned.
Note that forfeiture cases could take from a few months to years to end. It depends on the details of your case and how fast you can obtain the required support documents.
These cases can be costly too. Thus, you need to be well-prepared and budget wisely to ensure a smooth process.
Some people choose to represent themselves. Even with that option, remember that losing the case means losing the entire amount and any other asset that the DEA could have seized.
Find an Asset Forfeiture Attorney Near Me
If DEA has seized your money, it helps to know that you can retrieve it. The DEA will give you a notice of the seizure, together with the detailed procedure to follow to recover the money. However, these processes can be complex but could be made easier if you engage the help of an experienced asset forfeiture attorney. Experienced attorneys understand forfeiture laws better to advise and guide you on the quickest and most effective way to retrieve your money. At Asset Forfeiture Attorney, we will be there with you throughout the process to ensure that your rights are not violated. Call us at 888-571-5590 from California or any other part of the country, and let us evaluate the most appropriate and viable strategies for your specific case.