Law enforcement officers sometimes seize property they suspect has been used in drug activity or other crimes. This practice, called civil forfeiture, is allowed under both state and federal law. Because it is a civil matter, the burden of proof required for the government to keep the property is much lower than that required by the criminal law. This means it is easier for the government to keep property, and to do so even if the person is never charged or convicted of any crime.
What is Civil Forfeiture?
Civil forfeiture is a civil action operating under a legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of being used in a criminal enterprise. They are filed as in rem proceedings, which literally means the defendant is the named property item. Civil forfeiture laws come from an idea from the Middle Ages called deodand, which was a superstitious belief that inanimate things could be possessed, then causing harm on their own.
Civil forfeiture laws were first used in the United States by the founders of the country in order to seize ships involved with smuggling. They have remained in the country’s laws ever since, and are used as a vehicle to seize property, causing people to permanently lose it even if they did not actually commit a crime.
Why Civil Forfeiture Should End
The ease with which law enforcement agencies can seize property, cash and vehicles has led to multiple abuses of the laws. Some law enforcement agencies use these laws in order to create extra money for the department to use outside of its established budget. Law enforcement agencies are also allowed to file their cases under federal civil forfeiture laws, allowing them the benefit of vaster governmental resources in prosecuting the cases. The federal government also will allow the agencies to keep some or all of the property’s value, thus providing an incentive for the activity to continue.
What to Do if Your Property has been Seized
In the event that your property has been seized, it is important for you to act quickly. You will need to gather documentation showing your ownership of the property. You should receive a notice of forfeiture that will give you a limited time to respond. If you do not respond within that time, you will permanently lose your property. Prior to even getting a notice, it is a good idea for you to get the help of a strong criminal defense and asset forfeiture attorney like Robert R. Robles. Contact him today by calling 405-232-7980 or via his online contact form for help.