Fighting Asset Forfeiture in State and Federal Courts
Asset forfeiture can occur in both State and Federal courts. Both the State of Alabama and the Federal Government have civil and criminal asset forfeiture laws designed to allow the government to take property that is associated with criminal acts and offenses. The asset forfeiture may be a part of a criminal case, or may be brought as a separate civil legal action against the property itself. The amount of money and property forfeited each year by local, state, and federal authorities is astounding. According an Institute for Justice report, in 2014, the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Fund took in nearly 4.5 billion in assets. When facing a criminal or civil forfeiture, there are several important things to remember when your property is seized by the government in a civil or criminal asset forfeiture case.
YOU MUST ACT FAST
The timeline for making claims and fighting against an asset forfeiture is generally short. You must act very fast in filing claims and challenging the seizure and forfeiture of your property or your property may be lost regardless of whether the claim made by the government is true or not. The best advice is to seek out an attorney with experience in fighting forfeiture cases as soon as you possibly can. Time is of the essence.
THE GOVERNMENT CAN FORFEITURE YOUR PROPERTY EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT CONVICTED OR CHARGED WITH A CRIME
The government can seize and forfeit your property even where you are not convicted of a crime, and even where there is never a criminal charge against you. A forfeiture case is against the property itself, and as long as the government can show that the property is “connected” to a criminal act, the property may be forfeited. It is not uncommon for the attorneys at Bradford Ladner LLP to handle forfeiture cases where law enforcement has seized money or other property, but where there is never a criminal charge. Many times, especially when then there is a traffic stop and search, the police will seize large sums of money even when there are no illegal drugs found and no criminal activity detected.
YOU CANNOT ALWAYS DEPEND ON RECEIVING NOTICE OF THE FORFEITURE
Typically, the government will send notice to you of the seizure and forfeiture of property. However, the government is allowed to give notice by methods other than sending a paper notice to you. Often, notice is sent to the wrong address or is misdirected. You cannot depend on the notice procedures as a way of protecting your rights. It is much better to take a proactive approach by consulting an attorney and letting the attorney determine if there is a forfeiture proceeding underway.
THE FORFEITURE PROCESS IS COMPLICATED, ESPECIALLY THE PROCESS OF MAKING A CLAIM
Civil and criminal asset forfeiture law is strict and complicated. There are numerous deadlines and formal requirements or making claims and for prosecuting your claim on the property. A missed deadline or an improperly submitted document can prove disastrous to you claim. Having the help of an experienced attorney can make all the difference.
STATE FORFEITURE LAW AND FEDERAL FORFEITURE LAW ARE DIFFERENT
The laws governing state and federal forfeiture are different. They have different time deadlines and procedural requirements. Further, whether the forfeiture is a state forfeiture or a federal forfeiture does not always depend on whether state as opposed to federal officials handle the case. State and local law enforcement will often turn the property over to federal officials in order to have the forfeiture handled in federal court.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The bottom line in any forfeiture case is this: Don’t try and handle the case alone. Seek out and talk to an experienced attorney. Given the complexity and procedural requirements of forfeiture cases, an attorneys advise and help will be invaluable and may mean the difference between losing the property and getting it back.
The lawyers at Bradford Ladner LLP are experienced in State and Federal Civil and Criminal Asset Forfeiture. Call us today to discuss your situation.