Asset Forfeiture Laws
The government can legally seize and hold your assets for an extended period of time or even indefinitely. Though this is a grave injustice, it occurs with surprising regularity. It does not matter if you are guilty of a crime; the federal government can seize your assets and force you to prove your innocence. Even if your asset forfeiture attorney presents a convincing case, there is still the potential for the federal or state government to hold onto your assets. Time is of the utmost importance. If you do not act quickly, your assets will be held and your quality of life will dramatically decrease. Our asset forfeiture attorney is here to help recover your assets and return your life to normal as quickly as possible.
The Basics of Asset Forfeiture
Asset forfeiture takes place when the government seizes one’s private property. This form of legalized theft occurs without any form of compensation for the victim. Though there are some situations in which asset forfeiture is justified such as situations in which the property in question was obtained through criminal activity or used for committing a crime, asset seizure is often quite unjust. State asset forfeiture laws empower police officers and prosecutors to take nearly every type of property from automobiles to boats, land, houses and beyond.
It is important to distinguish the target of asset forfeiture proceedings. This is a lawsuit of the federal or state government against the propertyas opposed to the owners of the property. This means it does not matter if the property owner has committed a crime. The property owner can lose his or her property to asset forfeiture regardless of guilt or innocence. Asset forfeiture law is egregiously harsh. Consider the fact that the United States Supreme Court has maintained it is perfectly legal for the government to seize an automobile jointly owned by a married couple if either party has sexual intercourse with a prostitute in the vehicle even if the husband/wife did not know the vehicle was used for such a purpose. However, in most instances, asset forfeiture laws are typically applied in relation to drug offenses.
Federal and state law enforcement officials use asset forfeiture laws to seize millions of dollars of property and cash every single year. In fact, some state laws empower law enforcement agencies to keep the proceeds from the sale of such assets. This shady tactic is referred to as policing for profit. Though keeping the profits from asset sales is a helpful tool for enhancing law enforcement and reducing the power of criminal organizations, it is often misapplied to innocent civilians who are unjustly punished for alleged crimes they did not commit.
Federal and State Government Collaboration for Asset Seizure
United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions unveiled a plan to resuscitate the federal government’s Equitable Sharing Program in 2017. This program empowers local and state police agencies to work with one another as well as federal agencies to takes assets from individuals and transfer the seized property/cash to the federal government. This is important as local agencies can bypass statewide regulations that limit forfeitures. The federal government subsequently takes the proceeds, transmitting 80% to the state agency and keeping the rest. This method is quite controversial as it often circumvents state laws.
Why Asset Forfeiture Occurs and how It can be Reformed
The original purpose of civil forfeiture laws was to target illegal gains tied to criminal activity. In particular, these laws were meant to seize the proceeds of drug activity. However, many states have expanded the laws' reach to include felony offenses. The sad truth is there is no limit on the type of property state and federal governments can seize.
The silver lining is that asset forfeiture reform is becoming more popular across the country. The movement against unjust asset forfeiture laws will only continue to gain momentum in the years to come as it is incredibly unfair for police to arbitrarily take land, cash or assets from an individual who has not been charged with a crime. Such seizure without a charge is a blatant violation of constitutional rights.
Types of Property That can be Forfeited
Just about any type of property involved in a drug crime can be seized by state or federal governments. Examples of property eligible for such forfeiture include controlled substances such as drugs that are made, transmitted or acquired in an illegal manner. Raw materials or equipment used or intended to be used to manufacture drugs or export, import or deliver a controlled substance can also be seized. Even property used as a container for controlled substances, equipment or raw materials can be seized. Furthermore, records, books and research materials relied upon to violate laws pertaining to controlled substances or other illegal activity can be seized.
Cash, negotiable instruments, securities and other items of value used or intended for use to purchase controlled substances that can be traced to the sale or transportation of any type of controlled substance or used or intended for the use of violating any law can be seized. Land or buildings used or permitted to be used by an individual for illegal activity such as the use, sale, creation, distribution or storage of a controlled substance is eligible for seizure. However, law enforcement officials are not allowed to seize a home if it is a family residence or used for another lawful purpose. Furthermore, law enforcement officials are not allowed to seize real estate owned by two or more individuals if one did not know the property was used for illegal activity.
A weapon used in an assault, regardless of whether it is a firearm, sword, machete or other item can be seized in criminal cases. If an individual is convicted of abusing an animal or animal cruelty, his or her pet can be taken away by law enforcement. Even computers and associated equipment used to commit a computer or telecommunications crime such as online fraud can be seized. An automobile or other vehicle used for the transportation of goods featuring counterfeit trademarks and machines that make those trademarks or the goods in question can be seized if the targeted individual is convicted of selling or manufacturing a counterfeit mark.
Examples of Asset Forfeiture
Use your mind’s eye to envision a situation in which an individual who has ADHD takes Ritalin with a valid prescription in an attempt to remain focused and calm. A friend subsequently heads over to the ADHD sufferer’s residence and steals his Ritalin supply. This individual is later arrested for selling the drug on the street. Police are allowed to seize the Ritalin and the drug’s rightful owner will likely find it difficult to get it back.
Consider a situation in which a drug dealer uses the profits stemming from his or her criminal activity to finance the college education of his or her niece. The drug dealer is subsequently arrested. Prosecutors can confiscate the college savings account even though the drug dealer’s niece is reliant upon the money to pay for college.
Another example is an individual arrested while driving a vehicle with a considerable amount of a drug such as cocaine in the trunk. This individual is charged with possessing a drug with the intent of selling it. The vehicle is owned by the drug dealer’s father. The title to the vehicle is held by the bank that provided the loan for purchase. Police are perfectly within their rights to seize the vehicle and commence asset forfeiture proceedings. The driver subsequently defaults on the auto loan and suffers a diminished credit rating.
Asset Forfeiture Laws are Abused More Often Than Most Assume
Civil liberties attorneys far and wide agree asset forfeiture laws provide significant incentives for law enforcement officers to unjustly seize assets in an attempt to make money and make their jobs that much more secure. Police departments are allowed to keep a certain percentage of the property they seize. As an example, in the state of California 65% of all asset forfeiture proceeds are redirected to law enforcement agencies. The unfortunate truth is police officers and their employers financially benefit from seizing massive amounts of property as often as possible, regardless of whether the targeted individuals are actually guilty. There is clearly an incentive for egregious misconduct by law enforcement officials.
Equitable Sharing Laws
Some states have passed equitable sharing laws that make the situation even worse. Equitable sharing laws empower police to bypass laws passed by state legislatures that provide considerable protections for those trapped in asset forfeiture proceedings. The seized property is given to federal law enforcement and is subsequently handled through federal asset forfeiture laws that are almost always harsher than those of the state. As an example, California state agencies and local agencies are allowed to keep 80% of the proceeds stemming from seized property. The federal government keeps the remaining 20%. Equitable sharing laws mean state police officers can bypass asset forfeiture restrictions put in place by state officials while still raking in the cash for law enforcement agencies.
In an ideal world a conviction would be necessary before assets are forfeited. If one is not convicted yet asset forfeiture were still permitted, law enforcement could seize and maintain the assets of innocent individuals whenever desired. In most states, civil asset forfeiture law mandates a conviction for some but not all asset forfeitures through laws such as the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.
In order for law enforcement to seize real estate, money or securities worth up to $25,000, an airplane, boat or automobile, there usually needs to be a conviction in an underlying criminal action or a related criminal action. Furthermore, most states require the defendant be convicted of a crime that occurred within half a decade of the point in time at which the property was seized or the point in time at which the forfeiture was issued. However, it is unnecessary for a conviction to be made prior to the seizure of the property. Rather, there has to be a conviction before the property can be officially forfeited. The term forfeited means before the item(s) in question becomes that of the state or federal government and lost by the original owners.
Time is of the Essence
If state or federal law enforcement officials seize your assets or threaten to seize them, you must contest the action in a timely manner. Our asset forfeiture attorney is here to fiercely advocate on your behalf, fight asset forfeiture and return your property as soon as possible. However, the clock is ticking. If you do not meet specific deadlines, you run the risk of losing your property even if you have not been convicted or charged with a crime.
Instances in Which Conviction is not Required
The sad truth is a conviction is not necessary to seize property. Law enforcement officials can seize money, securities or negotiable instruments worth $25,000 or more. The exact dollar amount differs by state. It is possible for such money to be forfeited even if there is no conviction of a drug crime or other crime relating to the money. In such a case, the government must prove in a court of law that the funds stem from or are to be used for illegal drug sales. However, the state or federal government only needs to show such proof with what is referred to as clear and convincing evidence as opposed to the usual standard for criminality of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
Required Procedures and Your Rights
Every citizen of the United States has rights regardless of whether they are a criminal defendant or unluckily own an asset the state or federal government desires. Though such rights exist, most people are unaware of them until hiring an asset forfeiture attorney. These rights will help you obtain your seized property and return your life to normal. As an example, most states have detailed forfeiture laws in which the government is forced to adhere to specific procedures before declaring forfeited property. If the proper procedures are not followed, the state or federal government will not legally obtain the right of ownership for the property in question.
When police seize certain controlled substances that fall under the category of Schedule 1, these items can be forfeited without procedures. Drugs subjected to this such a summary procedure for asset forfeiture include heroin, LSD, ecstasy, marijuana and peyote. Yet a government official who seizes marijuana from an individual who legally possesses it under a state’s medical marijuana laws must return it to the patient.
Administrative Asset Forfeiture
The government can rely on a streamlined procedure referred to as administrative forfeiture in certain asset forfeiture cases. This form of forfeiture is applied for personal property, meaning property that is not real estate. In many states, this amount is a maximum of $25,000. However, most civilians lack an understanding of the nuanced procedures the government must adhere to. Such procedures are meant to protect property owners and prevent the finalization of asset forfeiture if the government’s procedure was defective in any way. The bottom line is you need an experienced asset forfeiture attorney on your side to identify the government’s procedure erros and ultimately return your property to your possession.
In most states, law enforcement officials who seize personal property worth $25,000 or less are required to provide notice of forfeiture proceedings to each party named in the property’s receipt and each individual who has an ownership interest in the property. The prosecutor must investigate the DMV records and federal agency records on automobiles, planes and boats to determine who, exactly, has an ownership interest in the property in question. The notice must meet specific requirements. As an example, those named in the receipt must be personally served. Others have to be notified by registered mail or with delivery in person.
Furthermore, the notice must have specific content such as the property’s description, the property’s appraised value, the date and location in which the property was taken, the location of property not yet seized, the supposed violation of law, time limits and instruction for filing and serving claim pertaining to the property. Finally, notice of the forfeiture proceedings must be published in a newspaper in the county where the seized property is located.
How to File a Claim
If your property is seized, do not accept it as an unfortunate occurrence that you cannot do anything about. Reach out to our asset forfeiture attorneys for a thorough review of your case. We will help you file a claim and do everything possible to retrieve the property. It is imperative you meet with our legal team right away as most states mandate claims be filed within 30 days of the receipt of the notice of forfeiture. Those who are not provided with a personal notice must file the receipt of notice within 30 days of the point in time at which notice was provided in the local newspaper. Though it is possible to obtain a deadline extension from the court, missing the deadline will prevent you from contesting the forfeiture. Our asset forfeiture attorney is here to help you complete the claim form, file it with the superior county in which you were charged and serve it on the prosecutor who initiated the forfeiture.
Once the claim is filed, the property cannot be forfeited through the simple administrative forfeiture procedure. Rather, the prosecutor will have to convert the procedure to a court forfeiture. If a claim is not filed by the deadline, the prosecutor will declare the property officially forfeited. The declaration of forfeiture is transmitted to everyone who received the notice detailed above. A tardy or defective claim really can sabotage your chances of retrieving your property and clearing your name. This is precisely why you need our legal team on your side to guide you through the claim filing process.
Contact Asset Forfeiture Attorney Today
If you are facing asset forfeiture or if your assets have been seized, reach out to our legal team today. You can contact the team at Asset Forfeiture Attorney by dialing 888-571-5590. We provide nationwide service to all individuals facing asset forfeiture. Remember, if you do not take timely action, it will be that much more difficult to get your property back. Our legal staff is here to do everything possible to recover your seized assets or forfeited property and return your life to normal.