West Palm Beach Asset Forfeiture Lawyer
Ohle Law P.A. could help you get your property back
The practice of asset forfeiture dates back to British colonial law, when ships and cargo were seized to combat piracy. The practice remained a part of U.S. law and has expanded vastly in the over the past 30 years. Within its first year of establishment in 1985 by the Justice Department, the National Assets Seizure and Forfeiture Fund seized $27 million from drug-related crimes. By 1992, the total amount had grown to $875 million. In 2014, the fund had seized more than $4 billion. Many argue law enforcement agencies have moved far beyond the original intended purpose for establishing the fund. Today, the federal government has extend law enforcement’s authority to seize privately owned assets even further than in years past.
How the asset forfeiture process works
Asset forfeiture is the practice of depriving criminals of ill-gotten gain by seizing the criminals’ property. Federal law specifies three types of asset forfeiture:
- civil judicial
Criminal forfeiture takes place when a defendant is convicted for a role he or she played in a crime. The federal government issues an indictment against the property the individual used during the commission of the crime or acquired as a result of receiving proceeds from the crime. The person may contest the asset seizure by going to trial. Civil judicial forfeiture also allows law enforcement to seize property that was involved in a crime; however, the process does not require criminal conviction. Instead of being filed against the property owner, the action is filed against the property itself. Like criminal forfeiture, civil judicial forfeiture allows the property owner to contest the forfeiture through trial proceedings. Administrative forfeiture takes place when the government indicates that it will seize property and no one contests the seizure. Property that can be seized through administrative forfeiture includes:
- Merchandise that is prohibited from importation
- a conveyance that was used to transport, import, or store illegal drugs
- monetary instruments or other items of value that do not exceed $500,000
Real estate may not be seized through administrative forfeiture. If the property owner contests the seizure, the government must then revert to using either criminal forfeiture or the civil judicial forfeiture process. Individuals who have received notice of federal asset forfeiture are required to respond prior to a specified deadline.
What Happens to Seized Assets
In addition to seizing assets, the federal government also operates a program through which assets are returned to crime victims. Since 2000, the Justice Department has returned more than $4 billion in assets to victims. Apart from returning funds and property to victims, many law enforcement divisions use proceeds from the sale of the assets to purchase equipment. In other cases, states and localities may use the assets to fund projects and programs. Examples of some of the ways in which seized assets have been used by the government include:
- purchasing police vehicles
- purchasing police weapons and equipment
- funding community policing programs
- funding gun buyback programs
- supplying Naloxone rescue kits
- training bomb-sniffing canines
- purchasing 911 call center equipment
Asset Forfeiture Expanded Further
Recently, the federal government has moved to increase law enforcement agencies’ authority to seize privately owned assets. Instead of limiting asset forfeiture actions to people who are involved in criminal activity, law enforcement agencies may now seize the assets of people who have not even been charged with a crime. Today, asset forfeiture has shifted from being a means of deterring criminals to one of the most preferred tactics by law enforcement. Many seizures are motivated by the desire to improve police departments’ bottom line.
Fighting Back Against Asset Forfeiture
People who experience asset forfeiture sometimes make the mistake of thinking they can handle the situation on their own by explaining their story. Nevertheless, speaking without a personal attorney present may negatively affect the likelihood of the items identified for seizure being returned to the owner. The process of opposing asset forfeiture can be very time-consuming and will definitely require the help of an experienced asset forfeiture defense lawyer. The average layman lacks the legal knowledge, training, and experience to navigate this complex area of law.
Contact a West Palm Beach Federal Asset Forfeiture Defense Lawyer
Although Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act requires law enforcement to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual has committed a crime prior to seizing his or her assets, the reality is some people may have their property seized prior to going to trial for a criminal offense. Moreover, the federal government has assumed a very aggressive position against private citizens by introducing a program that allows law enforcement to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of sales from seized property. Therefore, law enforcement agencies have an additional incentive to potentially overstep the rules when seizing property. Individuals who are facing asset seizure in West Palm Beach should immediately contact a Florida asset forfeiture attorney to determine the next steps. The federal government only permits property owners a limited amount of time within which the property owner must respond; otherwise, the government will proceed with taking the property. Contact a West Palm Beach defense lawyer today to stop the clock and fight back against asset forfeiture actions.