Civil Asset Forfeiture: Innocent or Not, Your Property Can Be Seized
No Criminal Charge Necessary
Did you know that the state and the federal government can take your possessions without charging you with a crime? Through a controversial legal process called civil forfeiture or civil asset forfeiture, law enforcement can seize assets of cash and property believed to be connected to criminal activity.
For example, if they believe that your truck was used to transport drugs, they can seize your truck. If they believe the cash in your wallet is proceeding from a drug deal, they can seize your cash. If they believe that your phone was used to coordinate drug deals, they can seize your phone.
This means that law enforcement can seize your car, house, boat, cash, and valuables if there is a reasonable belief that said property is linked to criminal activity.
Unlike criminal warrants for arrest, seizure of property suspected of being used in drug crimes, or the proceeds from crimes, requires a lower burden of proof because they’re civil matters.
The tests to establish the burden of proof are different for criminal and civil cases.
In civil forfeiture, the test in most cases is whether police feel there is a preponderance of the evidence suggesting wrongdoing.
A preponderance of the evidence standard means that property is more likely than not connected to a crime.
In criminal cases, the test is whether police can prove their evidence establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a tougher test to meet.
You can be completely innocent of any crime and still have your property seized, and being innocent doesn’t mean that your property will be returned.
According to Michigan law, if the property is seized through civil forfeiture, any person claiming an interest in this property may, within 20 days after receipt of the notice file a written claim expressing his or her interest in the property.
Upon the filing of the claim, the State of Michigan will transmit the claim to the prosecutor for the institution of the case in court.
The claim will include a list of the property seized along with a brief description.
In federal proceedings, a claim may be filed not later than 30 days after the date of final publication of notice of seizure.
A claim shall identify the specific property being claimed, state the claimant’s interest in such property, and be made under oath, subject to a penalty of perjury.
Any property that isn’t claimed by the owner is either kept or sold by the seizing department, which is one reason this practice is deemed so controversial and can be easily abused.
Forfeiture was originally enacted as a way to strip criminal enterprises of their resources, but today there are too many cases of innocent people being stripped of their money and property, which demonstrates the flaws in this law enforcement “tool.”
Always File On Time
Always file a claim of interest on time no matter what. Then the government has the burden of proof.
They’ll usually try and make it seem like the claimant has that burden which isn’t the case.
If they cannot prove it by a preponderance of the evidence they have to return the property.
More often than not they’ll try to settle which may or may not be the best option. It depends upon the facts but whatever they are, the most important thing is to file a timely written claim of interest.
Attorney Morris is trial lawyer who has been providing high-quality legal representation in the areas of state and federal criminal defense for more than 20 years. He’s known for his trial preparation by fellow attorneys, judges and clients alike. As a trial attorney, he’s dedicated to attaining justice in every case, and is always prepared to successfully take on complex legal issues. Barton and his law firm pride themselves on obtaining results for their clients that other attorneys cannot.
Not only does Barton Morris have extensive experience, he also engages in continuing legal education to provide the highest quality legal services. Barton has received specialized scientific training through the American Chemical Society, and is the only forensic lawyer-scientist in Michigan. He attended the prestigious Trial Lawyers College and serves on its Alumni Association Board of Directors. Barton Morris is also a board member of several distinguished legal associations including the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys, and the DUI Defense Lawyer’s Association Justice Foundation. He’s also an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and has graduated from their National Criminal Defense Trial College in Macon, Georgia.
Barton Morris is consistently chosen as a Top Lawyer of Metro Detroit and for DUI/OWI and criminal defense by DBusiness Magazine and Hour Magazine. He has also been chosen as a Super Lawyer in Criminal Defense.