Pennsylvania Civil Asset Forfeiture

The Top 10 Things NOT To Do If You're Arrested

If you’ve had your assets seized by the government as part of a Civil Asset Forfeiture case, chances are you’re angry, confused and wondering what you can do to fight back. Under the law, there are two types of contraband that is subject to civil forfeiture: Per Se contraband and Derivative contraband.

Seizure v. Forfeiture


Seizure happens when the government takes property from someone. The government can never seize property indefinitely. Eventually, they have to file for a petition for forfeiture.


Forfeiture is when legal title of the property changes from someone to the government. To legally forfeit something requires a hearing. If you are served with a petition for forfeiture, there are strict guidelines as to when you must reply. If you don’t reply, you may lose that property without a hearing (called a default judgment). It is only when the government gets the order forfeiting the property that it becomes the government’s. The government can then do whatever it wants with it. They can auction it. They can use it. Alternatively, they can destroy it.

Government’s duty to preserve seized property

Until a judge grants that order of forfeiture, the government MUST maintain the seized property in a way that it does not lose value. For example, if the government seizes a airplane or helicopter, it has an affirmative duty to maintain it as it was when they seized it. This means if it was airworthy, then the government must keep that seized aircraft in airworthy fashion. If the government just tows it away and doesn’t maintain it where over the course of a year, it goes from operable to inoperable and the government doesn’t win the forfeiture hearing, you are entitled to damages for the loss in value.

When selecting which attorney to hire, please consider:

  • Can you call anytime and talk to a live person?
  • Do they offer payment plans with no credit checks?
  • Will your attorney be attentive and explain what’s going on?

At The McShane Firm, we answer yes to all of these questions. We strive to provide you with a great customer service experience during this tough time.

Per Se Contraband

Per se contraband are things that are inherently illegal to possess or own by someone not allowed. For example, crack cocaine is per se contraband. Even though cocaine is a schedule II drug and a doctor can technical prescribe it, there are no legitimate legal reasons to have crack cocaine. Therefore, by its very existence, it is illegal to possess. As a result, the government can seek to forfeit and destroy it.

Derivative Contraband

Derivative contraband includes things that are not illegal on the face of it. However, the law says that if they are either bought by money from illegal activities or are part of an illegal business, they become illegal. In theory, if the government can prove that you were engaged in illegal activity and flipped or used that money to buy something, it can be seized and forfeited. In theory, if the government can show how you used something to facilitate a crime (help make it easier to commit or help make it happen), then that piece of property is possibly subject to forfeiture.

Having cash, no matter how much, in and of itself is not a crime in PA

Cash money seized at traffic stop

The best example of derivative contraband is cash money. Cash, no matter how much you have, is not illegal to own, possess or transport. There are no federal or state charges in America for simply possessing cash. Even if the police find the cash wrapped up in bundles, bands, rubber bands or plastic wrap, it does not make the cash illegal to possess.

The typical scenario involves “interstate drug interdiction units.” Attorney McShane is the only attorney in all of Pennsylvania who has received “Interstate Drug Interdiction” training by Eddie Ingram. The course was a revelation.

The policing for profit

The police set up in the northbound lanes on interstates in Pennsylvania if they want to catch drugs. But most of the time, they set up in southbound interstate lanes to get their favorite thing in the world: cash money. Most drug dealers and cartels that interstate ship are savvy. They never mix drugs and cash together. When they send the cars south with cash money, they make sure the car is completely free of drugs and the driver has no drugs. But the police are savvy. They stop the car for some reason. Next, they search it. Sometimes it’s with consent. Sometimes it is not.

What is The McShane Difference?

  • We take time to understand your personal needs and goals. Then we cater our legal strategy to fit you.
  • We care about you. We listen and return phone calls. We will take time to explain things so you are not left anxious in the dark.
  • We will make this as easy as possible. We will try to minimize the number of times you have to be in court which means less disruption of your work and family life.

Does this sound like what you are looking for in an attorney? If yes, then take the next step and call (717) 657-3900.

What the police look for in traffic stops when they look for cash forfeiture

They look for factors like:

  • Do the passenger and driver in the car have drivers licenses from different states?
  • Does the state of the car registration match the driver’s license of the folks in the car?
  • And without a doubt the police engage in profiling.

Attorney McShane received the same exact training that the interstate drug interdiction units received. So, he knows all of their tricks.

What the government will do is “seize” the cash money or seek to have the drivers agree to surrender the cash issuing a receipt or convince them to say that it isn’t the driver’s property. If it is abandoned property, and no one claims it, the government can use civil law to claim “found” money. It’s a big scam.  

How the government tries to prove its case

If pushed the government will try to use “expert witness” testimony (usually just a cop giving his opinion) as to why the cash must be drug related. Sometimes, the police will try to use technology like the Ion Scan to say that because there was trace amounts of drugs on the currency, the cash must be drug-related. Attorney McShane is the only attorney in the US who has beat an ion scan case in court. 

Can I get my car back after the police seize it for drugs?

Another type of derivative contraband case involves property used to facilitate illegal activity. The most frequent example is a car seizure in PA.  Typically, yes, you can get your car back if the government seizes it during a drug case. It is important that you get the car back because if you owe money on the car to the bank or the dealership, the fact that your car was seized will not stop your required payments. Ultimately, most cars seized by the police are not worth the hassle of the government going into court and doing the paperwork and the hearing to get properly.

Why the police seize cars

It is often a “pain point” that the police improperly use to try to force a plea or for the car owner to make a statement against the person who was driving the car with the drugs. Either way, we can fight. If you are an innocent owner, you have rights.  

Constitutional Protections

Forfeiture cases are civil in nature. In civil cases, the same Constitutional Rights that criminal defendants enjoy are largely absent. So it can be difficult to even know where to begin fighting to have your property returned. Your rights as the property owner need protected.

Our Clients are entitled to a Bill of Rights which states:

  • Our clients have the right to expect, we will be proactive in communication. You will hear it from us first. We will return all phone calls, texts and emails promptly.
  • Our clients have the right to expect plain speaking, straight shooting. No B. S.
  • Our clients have the right to expect us to do it right the first time, every time.
  • Our clients have the right to expect us to be on time and professionally prepared for all court appearances, and all meetings.
  • Our clients have the right to expect that they will be fully informed at all times.

This is our promise to you. Call today to get us on your side: (717) 657-3900.

How to Fight Back

It is essential that you don’t try to resolve a case like this on your own. Civil asset forfeiture is complex. 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 need to call us.

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. Most importantly, 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.

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