Civil and Criminal Forfeiture Law
Forfeiture refers to the state or federal government taking property, including real estate, from citizens for improper acts. While the federal and every state Constitution mandate the Government provide pay for all taken property, forfeiture provides the exception. Civil and criminal forfeiture law generates significant funding for the government, most notably, law enforcement. Yet, in some jurisdictions, including Pennsylvania, all property forfeited goes directly to funding law enforcement and the District Attorney. Further, a criminal or civil court may forfeit property with the burden of proof standard below, beyond a reasonable doubt. Depending upon the property type and reasons for forfeiture, the proof levels vary. Yet, still astounding, a person found not guilty of a crime, can still have their property forfeited. Moreover, the property often seized and forfeited belongs to innocent third-parties who had nothing to do with the suspected wrongdoing.
Where State & Federal Profit Machines Meet Your Rights
Cornerstone founded in 2011, practices in Texas, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, D.C., Pennsylvania, and North Dakota. To show the sheer amount of money seized, from just 2011-2017, those states combined for over $350 million via forfeitures! This total does not include proceeds from property seized and forfeited via joint projects. Often a state and the federal government conduct joint investigations and prosecutions and split all forfeited property. In 2014 alone, New York City got $28,211,242 million in funding from forfeited property.
Once, the state or federal government forfeits property it can use those items however it wants. This means even taking a person’s home, selling it, and keeping the profit from the property and its contents. Law enforcement possess extremely strong incentives to forfeit property, because it pays the bills, even if the legislature will not. Therefore, police often attempt to attach property to any act. Further, with many state’s weak protections, you will need an experienced attorney to protect yourself. Our attorneys possess many years of experience with civil and criminal forfeiture law, while successfully protecting thousands in clients funds.
Criminal forfeiture law prevents those suspected of crimes or their accomplices, from keeping illicitly earned property and assets. This bar applies for property obtained before, during, or after the criminal activity, if no other legitimate source exists. The property charged remains separate but on the same case. The property becomes a part of the criminal act and therefore included within the indictment or other charging papers.
Property subject to criminal forfeiture varies and can include almost anything. Previously forfeited items comprised of currency, guns, furniture, jewelry, real estate, vehicles, broker’s accounts, and animals. The major difference between criminal and civil forfeitures lies within the burden of proof needed to perfect a seizure. In a criminal matter, the burden of proof almost universally remains beyond a reasonable doubt. This means for the seizure to occur both the property and its owners must receive convictions. Usually criminal property seizure charges arise from its inseparable links to the banned offense.
For example, a person convicted for drug sales, often has the money found on them forfeited as illicit proceeds. Also, in New York, counties, especially Nassau County have aggressively been seizing cars used in drunk driving cases, to forfeit. Another criminal forfeiture example includes police seizing a bank robber’s gun. Here, the government likely destroys the item, but nonetheless forfeits it first. In organized crime matters, property or legal interests in it, which provide a source of influence over the the enterprise.
Although, criminal forfeiture proceedings comprise the minority of seizure filed actions, especially because of the high burden of proof. The experienced trial attorneys at Cornerstone Legal defended to verdict murder, drug, organized crime, DUI, DWI, firearms, and robbery cases. We will vigorously fight to protect you and your property from a criminal forfeiture.
Civil Forfeiture law refers to actions proceeding against property, itself, which becomes the defendant and the owner. A criminal charge or conviction is not necessary before the government can seize. Prior to the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act which sets the burden of proof at a preponderance of the evidence. The majority of the forfeitures pursued by the government are civil. States with low citizen forfeiture protections include Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Dakota, Florida, New York, Colorado, Texas, and Illinois. There are many instances of when civil forfeiture law applies to everyday life. The Institute for Justice, a non-profit, group, litigates matters throughout America. Their goals include limiting the Government’s powers, size and scope. The Institute of Justice conducted extensive research and rated each State’s particular rules. Click on the map below provided by the Institute for Justice to see where every state ranks.
An administrative forfeiture happens when real estate or personal property actions permit federal agencies to forfeit property without judicial involvement. Federal seizing agencies include the FBI, DEA. DOJ, ATF, ICE, Customs, Homeland Security, and Border Patrol. Federal agencies derive authority to start an administrative forfeiture from the Tariff Act of 1930, 19 U.S.C. § 1607. Property eligible for administrative forfeiture includes: merchandise Prohibited from importation; a conveyance used to import, transport, or store a controlled substance; a monetary instrument; or other property not exceeding $500,000 in value.
When a property owner files a response to an Administrative forfeiture action, the federal agency must notify the U.S. Attorney’s. The U.S. Attorney in the district where the property seizure occurs handles the matter. At this point, the Administrative forfeiture ceases. However, the court creates a new Judicial forfeiture action in the district where the seizure occurs. This action becomes a federal court case between the U.S. and the owner, for the property. However, property lacking a monetary instrument, or hauling conveyance, and exceeding $500,000 in value, proceedings must commence with judicial action. Also, if the forfeiture action lies against real property, the proceedings must be judicial, regardless of the property’s value.