What Is Asset Forfeiture - morgan and morgan
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What Is Asset Forfeiture?

What Is Asset Forfeiture?

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What Is Asset Forfeiture?

If you recently experienced law enforcement seizing your property, you might wonder, “What is asset forfeiture?” Asset forfeiture occurs when the government confiscates assets from persons suspected of involvement in a crime. Officers can seize assets without charging the owner with a crime. In other words, the government could take your belongings such as a house, car, or cash on the mere suspicion that they were involved in a crime.  

Asset forfeiture is hugely profitable for government coffers. According to Forbes, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Treasury Department have forfeited over $45 billion in revenue since 2000. Unfortunately, individuals who had their possessions confiscated by the police may not know their civil rights or how to get their seized assets back.

Few attorneys have the skill-set to handle an asset forfeiture case against the government. However, our attorneys have the resources, expertise, and motivation to help you fight back against government injustice. Contact Morgan & Morgan today for a free consultation. 

Law Enforcement Could Seize Your Property 

Law enforcement agents, such as those working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Department of Justice and others, could take your property if they believe that: 

  • The property was used to commit a crime
  • You purchased an asset with illegal funds
  • You are involved in money laundering 

There can be other circumstances in which law enforcement could seize your property. Asset forfeiture can be particularly common with white collar and drug crimes. The government commonly takes real estate property, cars, private planes, and even business assets believed to be “ill-gotten gains” (assets acquired by conducting illegal activities). 

What Is Civil Asset Forfeiture? 

Asset forfeiture is a civil action by the government against the property rather than the owner of the property. With civil asset forfeiture, the government confiscates and, in due course, assumes ownership of the property. The government can legally confiscate property based on federal and state laws. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), civil asset forfeiture, unlike criminal asset forfeiture, does not require a criminal conviction. However, the government must prove that the property in question was somehow tied to criminal activity.  

Civil forfeiture can be a useful tool for the government, as it allows agencies to file cases against assets that could be out of reach otherwise. For example, unlike criminal forfeiture, civil forfeiture proceedings can potentially reach the property of criminals residing outside of the country, such as terrorists. Civil forfeiture can also help the government recover assets from deceased defendants.

Examples of Confiscated Property

Individuals could face civil asset forfeiture if their property is allegedly linked to criminal activity, such as drug-related crime, terrorist activities, and many other offenses. Examples of items the government can confiscate include but are not limited to:

  • Cash
  • Vehicles
  • Boats 
  • Planes
  • Real estate
  • Bank accounts
  • Weapons

Asset Forfeiture Is a Controversial Practice

Government agencies generally claim that the purpose of asset forfeiture is stifling unlawful activity and disrupting cycles of crime. However, critics of the practice claim that the assets of individuals who may never have committed a crime should not be seized without due process. Individuals currently facing civil forfeiture arguably have fewer rights than criminals. In criminal trials, the defendant’s guilt must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, to confiscate property in civil court, the government merely needs to have a “preponderance of evidence,” which can amount to little more than a probable link to crime.

Moreover, criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, a property owner who had their assets seized under civil forfeiture laws has the burden of proof to show that their assets were not tied to illegal activity.

Individuals Have to Fight to Recover Their Property

Owners of property confiscated by the government may have to fight lengthy and costly courtroom battles to get their assets back. The costs of filing a claim could exceed the value of the assets seized, leading to innocent individuals simply walking away from their assets rather than risking further losses. However, you do not have to struggle on your own. If you had assets unfairly seized by the government, Morgan & Morgan is on your side. We could help you recover your property.

You Could Have Legal Recourse Against the Government

While it is not impossible to get your property back, it typically requires suing the government agency that took the assets from you. Under the law, you could force the government to return your property in the following circumstances and others:

  • You had no knowledge of the alleged criminal activity
  • The forfeiture is excessive compared to the alleged crime 
  • The law enforcement officer confiscating assets had no probable cause
  • The government excessively delayed filing the forfeiture case
  • Your property was seized during an illegal search and seizure

What Is Due Process?

Due process is your right to challenge the government when your civil rights are threatened. You are generally entitled to:

  • Inspect the government’s evidence against you
  • Present your defense
  • Question witnesses
  • Testify on your behalf
  • Challenge accusations made by the relevant government agency

Due process applies to criminal and civil cases alike. 

Your Next Best Steps After Asset Forfeiture

If law enforcement seizes your cash, vehicle, or other property, you will have to act quickly to preserve your chances of recovering your assets. The government will not simply return your property even if you are cleared of any crime or wrongdoing. You may have to initiate a civil lawsuit to get your belongings back. Moreover, the timeframe to challenge the seizure may be short. 

Contesting Asset Forfeiture

An asset forfeiture lawyer can help you navigate the process of contesting the confiscation of your property, which can include filing a legal claim and a petition.

Filing a Petition for Remission or Mitigation

The petition has to be filed in writing and within 30 days of the date detailed in the notice letter. The document should include the following information:

  • Your name, contact details, and social security number 
  • The name of the agency that seized your property 
  • Details of the seizure, such as the date and location
  • A detailed account of the seized asset

The petition must also be accompanied by documents proving your ownership and evidence justifying the return of the property. The petition must be signed under oath.  
Once completed, you should file the petition with the agency that seized your property and sent the forfeiture notice. Not filing a claim in time typically bars you from recovering your property. It is crucial to note that a claim is generally only considered filed on the date it was received by the responsible government agency and not on the date you sent it.  

How Can Morgan & Morgan Help?

Getting your assets back can be a lengthy and complicated process. However, our lawyers understand the legal complexities involved in the asset forfeiture process and can work tirelessly to help you recover what is rightfully yours. The government could be violating your civil rights. We can ensure that your rights to private property and due process are upheld. Due process means that you are generally entitled to challenge the government when your private property is confiscated. 

Our asset forfeiture lawyers can help you file a petition for remission or mitigation and move forward with a claim. We can expedite the process, so you are not missing any applicable deadlines. If you contact us as soon as your assets are seized, we could start working on your case right away to help prevent the permanent loss of your assets.

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  • Is Asset Seizure the Same as Asset Forfeiture?

    Asset seizure and asset forfeiture are similar but not the same. Asset seizure occurs when someone takes your property. However, seizing property simply means confiscating it without necessarily transferring ownership. Asset forfeiture, on the other hand, addresses ownership. The government uses asset forfeiture to take legal ownership of the property seized. Therefore, asset seizure describes the taking of property while asset forfeiture changes property ownership.  

  • What Are the Three Types of Asset Forfeiture?

    There are three types of asset forfeiture: 

    Criminal Forfeiture

    Criminal forfeiture is part of an individual’s conviction for a crime and focuses on the property obtained by the defendant’s illegal activity. A court can order forfeiture of money, a specific piece of property, or other items to substitute for a particular property. However, in criminal forfeiture, the government must prove a link between the crime and the asset by showing a “preponderance of the evidence.” 

    Civil Forfeiture 

    Civil forfeiture describes court action against property. Generally, a prosecutor will launch the civil forfeiture proceedings by filing a complaint in civil court. In civil forfeiture, the prosecutor does not have to file a criminal charge against the owner of the property in question. 

    Administrative Forfeiture

    Administrative forfeiture is more common than the other two types of asset forfeiture. The process is handled by a government agency internally and allows the agency to confiscate property without filing a court case, provided nobody has filed a claim contesting the confiscation. Seizure of assets can occur even if the connection between a crime and the property is not substantial as long as there is a level of “probable cause.” If you want to contest or prevent the government from confiscating your property, you must file a claim as soon as possible to assert your property rights.

  • Do All States Have Civil Asset Forfeiture?

    Most states have civil asset forfeiture laws. However, many states have recently taken steps to scale back or reform the practice. Currently, only Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Maine have abolished civil asset forfeiture altogether. 

  • Can I Fight Forfeiture Without an Attorney?

    Fighting asset forfeiture can be challenging on your own as it involves complex legal issues and statutory laws. Individuals often underestimate the complexity of asset forfeiture cases and the effort, knowledge, and time required to fight for recovering their assets. 

    Your lawyer can examine your case thoroughly to determine whether law enforcement made any procedural errors during confiscating your property, such as failing to adhere to the laws in your state. In some cases, property owners are not connected to the supposed crime in any way. A lawyer can contest the seizure of your assets by proving that you had no knowledge or were not present during a crime. 

    While you could potentially fight forfeiture on your own, an experienced asset forfeiture lawyer can increase your chances of successfully contesting the confiscation of your assets. 

  • How Long Does a Civil Forfeiture Case Take?

    Every asset forfeiture case is different. Some take a few months to resolve, while others could last several years. It is important to go into the process knowing that a forfeiture case could be lengthy and costly unless you work with a lawyer who does not charge any upfront attorney’s fees. 

  • How Do I Know Whether to File a Claim or a Petition for Mitigation or Remission?

    Generally, a petition for mitigation or remission tends to assume that there is a valid forfeiture case and requests a pardon together with the return of all or part of the property. On the other hand, you can file a legal claim before receiving a Notice of Forfeiture, allowing you to challenge the evidence supporting the forfeiture.

    Fighting asset forfeiture can involve numerous complex steps. However, it is best not to attempt to find the right solution to fight for your property on your own. Our experienced asset forfeiture lawyers can advise you comprehensively and determine the best avenues for recovering your property in your unique situation. 

  • Morgan & Morgan Can Fight Back for You

    Fighting the government is not only intimidating, but it can also be extremely challenging. Individuals are often hampered by the effort and resources required to fight asset forfeiture. Filing a petition alone can be tricky. Mistakes could result in losing your chances to recover your assets forever. However, you do not have to go it alone. Morgan & Morgan is here to fight for victims of asset forfeiture.

    We believe it is wrong of government agencies to confiscate your property if you have done nothing wrong. Getting your rightful assets back should not be a frustrating process. If you are a victim of asset forfeiture, we could fight back on your behalf. If you would like to learn more about your legal rights and what asset forfeiture is, get in touch. Contact us now to determine if we could help you recover your property.

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Last updated on Nov 29, 2022

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