Civil Forfeiture Laws in United States

Are you worried about the government seizing the assets you have worked so hard to earn and enjoy? Even if you do not know what the term civil forfeiture means, you can lose a considerable amount of cash and property to government seizure. The bottom line is everyone has the potential to be in the government's cross-hairs for civil forfeiture even when completely innocent. If the government suspects anything you own or the cash you have is tied to illegal activities, your possessions and savings will be subjected to civil forfeiture.

Civil Forfeiture Defined

The federal and state governments have the right to seize property and cash in what is known as civil forfeiture. This seizure is permissible if the state or federal law enforcement agents have reason to believe the items in question are related to illegal activity. As an example, an individual who purchases lavish cars, stockpiles cash and acquires other items of value after completing a massive drug deal is the perfect candidate for civil forfeiture. Unfortunately, state and federal law enforcement sometimes seize the assets of completely innocent hardworking people, holds those assets for an egregiously long period of time or sells them and keeps most of the proceeds. The items and cash seized by the state or federal government can be held for a lengthy period of time as long as the individual in question is suspected of a crime.

The Basics of Civil Asset Forfeiture 

There is an important distinction to be made between criminal asset forfeiture and civil asset forfeiture. The civil variety does not mandate that the individual in question have a conviction or even be hit with a single criminal charge. The vast majority of civil asset forfeitures are connected to alleged illegal activities such as the sale of drugs. To be completely accurate, civil asset forfeiture requires a government lawsuit against the actual property. The property, be it a bag of money, guns, a home or any other item is named as the defendant in the ensuing proceeding.

As long as the police can show a preponderance of evidence exists to suggest the seized property is involved in the alleged illegal activity, asset seizure can occur. The nuances of the seizure hinge on the idiosyncratic rules of each jurisdiction. In asset forfeiture cases, the police serve as the plaintiffs. These authorities have to meet a fairly low standard for proof compared to that necessary for criminal convictions. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is necessary for a criminal conviction. Therefore, property is seized at a higher frequency than expected from those who are not actually convicted of a crime or even charged with a crime. 

It is awfully disturbing to learn that even if the individual who owns the property in question is tried for a crime connected to the property, there is no assurance he or she will be provided with the property after being acquitted. Such seized items are commonly sold at auctions. The lion's share of the proceeds along with any cash seized go to the police department's budget. Though state laws ultimately dictate how such money and proceeds of valuables seized can be used, the majority of the funds are used for law enforcement purposes. This arrangement presents a clear conflict of interest as it is in law enforcement's interest to seize as much cash and valuables as possible to keep their department well funded across posterity.

Why Civil Asset Forfeiture Occurs

The police and federal government are quick to point out civil asset forfeiture is an effective means of bringing the drug trade and other illegal activity to a grinding halt. There is certainly some truth in that statement. However, civil asset forfeiture continues in the face of considerable resistance as it is an easy means of adding to state and federal budgets. Some of the items seized are eventually auctioned off and the state and federal law enforcement agents responsible for the seizure share the proceeds for their respective budgets. Funding is at the heart of the continued existence of these widely unpopular civil forfeiture laws.

Due Process After Civil Forfeiture

If the government seizes your valuables or cash, alleging these items are tied to illegal activity, do not panic. An asset forfeiture attorney will help you emerge from this conflict with your assets, cash, reputation and dignity firmly intact. Remain calm, meet with our legal team and due process will take its course.

Though no hearing or notice was provided prior to the seizure of your assets, you will have your day in court now that you have legal representation. It is important to note all property seized through civil asset forfeiture must be handled according to the same guidelines that pertain to the seizure of property used as evidence. This means the Fourth Amendment's search and seizure requirements are applicable to items taken through civil forfeiture.

Potential Changes to Civil Forfeiture

There is clearly some concern about the current asset forfeiture laws. A number of politicians and others have proposed changes to current civil forfeiture laws. As an example, the Justice Department has suggested the government bear the burden of proof in these unique cases. Perhaps it would help if people could file civil asset forfeiture claims well beyond the currently limited filing deadline. Stay tuned. Civil asset forfeiture laws have the potential to change in the coming years.

Some Forfeitures go Uncontested

It is particularly interesting to note the majority of forfeitures end up uncontested. Most people are shocked to learn the average victim of civil asset forfeiture does not put up a lengthy fight – or in many cases, any fight at all. Those who perform asset seizure are adamant the lack of responses to asset forfeiture is evidence that the valuables and cash being seized really are connected to illegal activity. 

In some instances, the defendant in a parallel case argues he or she did not contest the forfeiture of valuables or cash as insufficient notice or no notice at all was provided. One of the more common arguments is the government provided notice to the incorrect jail or the individual's home address even though he or she was incarcerated. The bottom line is criminals deserve the right of due process. It is the government's responsibility to give notice of forfeiture to the individual being held by the same entity. 

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture 

A number of federal agencies are empowered to use civil asset forfeiture laws to stop criminal activity. Groups ranging from the Drug Enforcement Agency, commonly referred to as the DEA to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), rely on asset forfeiture laws for criminal investigations. The legal authority for such actions is within Title 18, statute 981 of the United States Code. Federal law states the government is required to transmit written notice to parties of interest (meaning those who own the property in question) within at least 60 days of the seizure. However, extensions to this deadline are sometimes granted by the courts. If the property owner turns in a claim to the group seizing his valuables or cash, the federal government has upwards of 90 days to file a civil complaint on the property seized or secure a criminal indictment. Once a criminal indictment is obtained, the government can proceed with criminal forfeiture. If the government does not take either of these routes, the property must be released to the owner. 

Equitable Sharing

In the summer of 2017, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated he planned on resuscitating the Equitable Sharing Program. This program permits extensive assistance between federal groups and state/local law enforcement authorities. The Equitable Sharing Program is controversial as it empowers federal agencies to assume control of assets and cash seized by way of collaborative efforts involving federal and local law enforcement agents. The program allows for 80 percent of the seized funds and proceeds from seized items that are subsequently sold to be returned right back into the coffers of the state. In most cases, it is the local police or state police who receive the proceeds. In summary, local law enforcement agencies are tempted to use civil forfeiture laws as a roundabout means of circumventing state laws that cap the amount of seized assets that can be kept.

Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws on the State Level

State laws pertaining to civil asset forfeiture are considerably different from one another. Furthermore, these laws have the potential to change in the months, years and decades ahead. The primary points of note with these laws are the manner in which proceeds are put to use and the burden of proof necessary for seizure to occur in the first place. As an example, a preponderance of evidence must be shown for seizure to take place in a legal manner. The question is why the government is allowed to retain any percentage of the proceeds of such seizures. After all, there is no guarantee the property seized is actually connected to criminal activity of any sort. This is precisely why asset forfeiture laws will always be so controversial.

Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws are a Threat to the Well-being of Innocent People

Can you imagine having your home, vehicle, valuables and cash seized simply because the state or federal government suspect those items are tied to some sort of illegal activity? Such asset forfeiture is a grave injustice, especially if an innocent person is ensnarled in the drama. Unfortunately, there is a disturbingly low legal threshold necessary for the state or federal government to seize assets. Even if you are not charged with a crime or found guilty of a crime, your assets can be seized.

Though asset forfeiture might help in the battle against crime, it also has the potential to make life a nightmare for innocent people. The sad truth is there are insufficient safeguards for those who are innocent yet suspected of being involved in illegal activity. The only form of legal recourse is to hire an attorney who will fiercely advocate on your behalf, prove your innocence and demand that all of your seized assets be returned in their original condition in a timely manner. Keep in mind there is no need for the government to arraign you or any other suspect in court. If you are targeted for civil asset forfeiture, there is no need to convict you of a crime; as long as the government has the bare minimum in terms of probable cause for property seizure, your valuables will be taken away from you. Adequate probable cause for property seizure is reasonable grounds to believe the individual is guilty. If such reasonable grounds exist, the government can and will take all property potentially tied to the supposed illegal activity.

How to Proceed After Asset Forfeiture

If your assets are seized, do not assume you are powerless simply because you are going up against the federal or state government. Hiring an attorney will go a long way in preserving your rights, reacquiring your property and clearing your name. Your first course of action should be contacting our law office to schedule an appointment. Meet with our legal team to explain exactly what happened. We will build a legal case, perfect a nuanced strategy for the idiosyncrasies of your situation, advocate on your behalf and do everything in our power to return your valuables. This is the assistance you desperately need during this dramatic period of your life. Keep your focus on going to work, providing for your family and keeping your spirit high during this chaotic time. Your attorney will review the details of the situation, determine how to best respond to the government's case against you and ensure all assets are provided to the appropriate parties in a reasonable amount of time.

Do not attempt to traverse the rocky legal waters on your own without the assistance of a proven asset forfeiture attorney. Those who attempt a pro se defense without a skilled attorney on their side almost always lose their property and end up with a criminal conviction. Civil forfeiture proceedings mandate the assistance of a highly skilled asset forfeiture attorney. This process will prove time consuming, legally complex and possibly costly. Do not assume an everyday person can emerge with his or her freedom and property even with the most impassioned defense. Successfully petitioning the state or federal government to return your seized property is a challenge in and of itself. If any of your valuables have been taken due to supposedly being connected to a crime, reach out to us right away. Our legal team will draw upon our background with law enforcement agencies and asset forfeiture to make the case for the return of your assets without an extensive delay.

Let the Legal Experts Sweat the Small Stuff  

The aftermath of civil asset forfeiture is not a time to spend poring over the details of the court's requirements and legal strategies. You need to rest, relax, clear your mind and do your best to provide for your family. Let our legal team handle all forfeiture claims deadlines, forms and other paperwork. There is only so much time available to respond following asset forfeiture. The point at which the government provided notice of seizure and whether it is criminal or civil in nature dictates the procedures and deadlines. Do not attempt to solve this puzzle on your own. Our team is here to find out exactly when a claim must be filed to ensure your property is returned in a reasonable amount of time. Fail to hire an attorney in the aftermath of your asset forfeiture and you will find it is difficult or even impossible to retrieve your seized items in their original condition.

Every single member of our legal crew works with a steadfast focus. Our aim is to combat the government's illegitimate seizure of property. Whether there is an inconsistency in the warrant, an unsubstantiated claim, false testimony, a constitutional violation or another potential flaw in the prosecution's case, we will find it and use it to your advantage. Put your faith in our savvy asset forfeiture attorneys and we will take every step possible to safeguard your legal rights against all attacks on the property you have worked so hard to acquire. Furthermore, we will ensure you are no longer harassed by state and/or federal law enforcement.

The moral of this story is no one should be intimidated by the state of federal government simply because they seized property. Whether your home, vehicle, jewelry, cash, real estate or any other item has been seized by the government, you should know there is avenue for legal recourse. Meet with our asset forfeiture attorneys for a thorough review of your case. Our sole interest is in protecting your property. We will defend against the charges in federal or state court, make a compelling case for your assets to be returned and ultimately try to clear your good name so you can return your life to normalcy. Let us do the heavy legal lifting while you attempt to restore peace to your life, meet your work obligations and move forward with much-needed hope for a better tomorrow.

Contacting a Civil Forfeiture Attorney Near Me

If your assets have been seized or if you are worried about the potential seizure of cash, property or any other valuable, contact us right away. You can reach our asset forfeiture lawyer at 888-571-5590. Give us a call to schedule an appointment, learn more about civil asset forfeiture and get the ball rolling on your case.