Most states have become very zealous in going after anyone who has been charged with any type of drug charge. Not only could you be facing jail time, or substantial fines, you could also face the forfeiture of your vehicle, home, or other possessions. Unfortunately, even if you are found to be innocent of any charges, authorities may still be able to keep your belongings under the terms of civil forfeiture. Fortunately, if this has happened to you, there are things that you can do.
What Is Forfeiture?
Forfeiture is simply the legal process that the police or other governmental agencies go through to take your property against your will and transfer the rights of ownership to their agency. This is normally property of significant value that can be used by the governmental agency or sold at auction for cash. The most common types of property seized include:
- Cash and more
What Is Civil Forfeiture?
The roots of forfeiture were initially in the criminal court arena, meaning that you had to be charged with some type of crime, but this changed. In 1978, Congress amended the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (21U.S.C.A. 881) which is also called the Forfeiture Act. The amendment of this Act now allows the police to seize anything of value that was used, or could be used by a person participating in any type of illegal activity. In addition to persons charged with various drug charges, civil forfeiture is also being used in cases of:
- Drunk driving
- Gambling and more
The changes in this law also gave law enforcement more leverage in cases of civil forfeiture. Under civil forfeiture, they could actually take and charge your property itself, without ever having to charge or convict you of a crime.
Why Has There Been An Increase In Cases Of Forfeiture?
There was an increase in civil forfeiture following the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. This Act gave state and federal governmental officials the right to divide up any seized assets between the agencies. This gave way for many agencies to begin policing for a profit, or finding ways to use civil forfeiture for their financial gains. With ongoing budget cuts, and reduced funding, some departments have been known to rely on forfeited monies to help to cover missing portions their budgets.
From 2005 - 2010, the amount that the government seized doubled from $1.5 billion to approximately 2.5 billion, but in 2013 alone, federal agencies seized more than $4 billion dollars. Unfortunately, not all of this money came from individuals that were guilty of a crime. Some of it came from innocent victims.
Civil forfeiture is legal in 42 states, and only eight states do not participate in this practice. These states are:
- North Dakota
- North Carolina
What Can You Do If Your Property Is Seized Under Forfeiture?
The first thing that you need to do if your property is seized under criminal or civil forfeiture is hire a good criminal defense attorney. If you have been charged with a drug-related crime or any other type of crime, the court may be willing to appoint you an attorney, but they will not appoint an attorney if your property has simply been seized under civil forfeiture.
Make sure you open and respond to any complaint that you receive pertaining to the forfeiture. If you have hired an attorney, take this notice directly to your attorney so that they may have time to respond within the required time frame.
A knowledgeable and experienced drug defense attorney will know how to answer this complaint, as well as how to request a hearing on the matter. They will also know how to mount an appropriate defense in your forfeiture case. Do not go through a forfeiture case alone; the rules are stacked against you. The agency that took your belongings really wants to keep those belongings. This is a case you will have a very difficult time winning by yourself.