When a theft occurs and your property is taken, you may call law enforcement to get justice. But few people know that police can sometimes be the ones taking your property.
A questionable legal process known as “civil forfeiture” allows law enforcement institutions to confiscate property from private citizens. Most people who have this happen to them feel overwhelmed and do not know what to do.
Those who experience the civil forfeiture of property process may be uncertain about how to get their assets back. Many individuals are afraid of facing criminal charges for attempting to recover their things.
If you have experienced the forfeiture of property process, the attorneys at Morgan & Morgan can help. Not every lawyer has experience taking on law enforcement or government agencies.
The accomplished legal team at Morgan & Morgan has plenty of experience reclaiming clients’ seized assets. Our legal professionals understand how to help clients deal with the forfeiture of property process.
If you or someone you love has had property taken by law enforcement, do not hesitate. Complete the simple contact form on the Morgan & Morgan website to schedule a free, no-risk legal consultation.
Understanding the Civil Forfeiture of Property Process
Civil asset forfeiture laws give police the ability to obtain and keep money and property under certain circumstances. Specifically, they can take cash and assets suspected of being used in illegal ways.
The police can also seize property that was obtained through criminal methods. For example, they can take and keep any items bought with illegally obtained money.
These laws are highly controversial. Specific statutes differ from state to state.
The reason these laws are controversial is that the forfeiture of property process does not rely on proving criminal activity. In many states, someone can be innocent and still have their assets and property taken by the police.
Civil property forfeiture is distinct from criminal asset forfeiture. Criminal forfeiture requires that the person in question be convicted of a crime.
Most instances of civil forfeiture relate to suspicions of drug sales or other organized crimes. In technical terms, the forfeiture of property process involves the government filing a lawsuit against the property itself.
This may seem strange. But with civil asset forfeiture, the property is the defendant.
In most cases, law enforcement institutions are held to the lowest legal standard of proof for the civil forfeiture of property. That standard of proof is known as a “preponderance of the evidence.”
This burden of proof is significantly lower than what is required for the conviction of a crime. To be convicted of a crime, the evidence against someone must point to guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Because of this low bar of proof, police can seize property from private citizens who are innocent.
Even in cases in which the property owner is acquitted of the criminal accusation, they may not recover their property. In most cases, the seized assets are sold at auction.
The money made from selling seized property often goes directly into the police department's budget.
Some states place regulations on how this money can be used. But in many cases, all of the proceeds go to increase the budget of the police department.
Examples of Items Seized by Police
Because the rules surrounding civil forfeiture are so lenient, police departments can seize all types of private assets. Any property that they believe was associated with a crime can be taken.
Some of the most common examples of items seized by police include:
- Cars, trucks, and other vehicles
- Money from private bank accounts
- Jewelry and other valuable items
- Professional licenses
- Homes and real estate
Because the police are technically targeting the inanimate property, they can seize almost anything. If they can show that an asset was more likely than not associated with a crime, they can confiscate it.
This is incredibly unfair to the “innocent owners” of the property. Even those who have not engaged in any illegal activity can have their assets taken from them.
In many states, the property owners are put in the position of making a claim to their own property. If you have experienced civil asset forfeiture, contact a trusted tort law firm today.
When you call the firm of Morgan & Morgan, we will connect you with a knowledgeable civil forfeiture attorney. Our team will fight hard to protect your property rights.
Abusing the Original Purpose of Civil Forfeiture
The legal context of forfeiture laws creates many incentives for abuse. Many police departments have been accused of using civil forfeiture to boost their bottom lines.
In some cases, civil forfeiture takes priority over more serious crime-fighting functions.
Initially, civil asset forfeiture was intended to help law enforcement cripple large organized criminal enterprises.
However, today many departments make seizures to increase their organizational revenue.
It can be incredibly difficult for innocent persons to get their property back after it is taken by the police. In many cases, victims pay more to recover their assets than the total value of the property in question.
Each year, law enforcement seizes a larger total value of private assets than the year prior. This problem of police abuse is getting worse.
Even in cases in which state laws make civil forfeiture difficult, there are legal loopholes. Oftentimes, state police will work with federal agencies to get around forfeiture regulations.
If you or someone you love has been victimized by the civil forfeiture of property process, do not wait. It is important to speak with an accomplished forfeiture expert as soon as possible.
The accomplished team at Morgan & Morgan has plenty of experience protecting the property rights of innocent persons. It is deeply unfair that law enforcement organizations can seize the private property of citizens with so little oversight.
What to Do if Your Property Is Seized
If your property or assets have been taken from you, you may feel scared and overwhelmed. Most people do not have experience with civil forfeiture until it happens to them.
Once you have received notice of forfeiture, you will only have a limited amount of time to respond. Depending on the nature of the claim, various deadlines and procedures will apply.
For this reason, it is important to speak with the legal professional as soon as possible. There is a strict timeline for appealing civil asset forfeiture.
In some situations, police officers can take your property without the need for a warrant. These instances can be disorienting and terrifying.
The skilled legal professionals at Morgan & Morgan will work hard to protect your rights. A civil asset forfeiture lawyer will handle the following important elements of your case:
- Disputing the relationship between the assets and alleged criminal activity
- Examining your case to discover possible Constitutional violations
- Refuting unsubstantiated testimony
- Uncovering any potential harassment by law enforcement officers or prosecutors
- And more
Many argue that civil asset forfeiture amounts to criminal punishment without a conviction. The surest way to protect your private property rights is to contact a skilled forfeiture attorney.
You should not have to worry that the government will wrongfully confiscate assets that are rightfully yours.