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:
- Real estate
- Bank accounts
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.