If you’ve had your assets seized by the state as part of a Civil Asset Forfeiture case, chances are you’re angry, confused and wondering what you can do to fight back. Under state law, the government can take your property even if you have personally done nothing wrong simply because they believe it has been used in a crime someone else committed. This can range from annoying to devastating, depending on the value of the property that is taken. And the hardest part to swallow is, it isn’t always done legally, or in good faith. Sometimes, it can amount to no more than the police stealing from you and getting away with it.
To make matters worse, when your assets are seized under what’s called Civil Asset Forfeiture, you have fewer rights than a thief or drug dealer who has been arrested. In civil cases, you aren’t protected by the same Constitutional Rights of Due Process that criminal defendants enjoy. So it can be difficult to even know where to begin fighting to have your property returned. Your rights as an individual are not always made clear.
Seizure vs. Forfeiture
Technically, these cases fall into two categories. When the government takes your property, for example, your money, that is called seizure. When the government takes over your property by transferring the title out of your name, like with a place of business, that is called forfeiture. Both are ostensibly legal as part of civil cases where the property is considered “the contraband per se” or “derivative contraband.”
For example, if you own a car that was used in an alleged drug deal the government can seek its forfeiture. If have a car that the government contends is bought from the proceeds of drug transactions, it can be seized and subject to forfeiture. The government does not even need to prove guilt as to the underlying charge (in our case – the drug dealing) to take your property. They can only have a suspicion that your property is being used in connection with illegal activity to seize it. Then they have to file forfeiture paperwork seeking to transfer ownership away from you forever.
If your property has been seized, you will have an opportunity to prove that it is not part of illegal activity or is illegal to own in the first place and have it returned.
One of the most prevalent examples of overreaching by our government comes in the case of cash. It is not illegal to have a large amount of currency on hand. You can legally have $100,000 or $1,000,000 in cash in your car or in your house or in a storage facility or even buried in the back yard. Yet, the government frequently jumps to a conclusion that this money is due to drug transactions. Oftentimes, there is no information or evidence to support this whatsoever. Only suspicion.
How to Fight Back
It is essential that you don’t try to resolve a case like this on your own. Unintentional moves (even with the best intentions), missed deadlines, or failures to plead with specificity can very easily result in losing your case and losing your property. For the best chance of having your property returned, you are strongly advised to get help from an attorney with an expert understanding of the laws surrounding Civil Asset Forfeiture.
Civil Asset Forfeiture can feel like the ultimate violation of your rights as a citizen. If it happens to you, you need to fight back and fight back hard. The attorneys at The McShane Firm are highly experienced litigators and negotiators who will aggressively pursue the return of what is rightfully yours. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you recover your property.