Forfeiture of Property
Often times when law enforcement conducts investigations or makes arrests, they are trained to seize property and assets of the individuals they arrest. Seized and forfeited property usually goes to the law enforcement agency that seizes the property. Therefore, there is an incentive for police to seize your property even when there is no justification for the seizure.
Forfeiture laws allow the government to keep the seized cash and property, destroy the property, or sell it and keep the proceeds to fund a number of activities. Depending on the law, the proceeds can be used for law enforcement expenses, such as investigative activities, equipment, restitution payments to crime victims, drug education programs, prosecutorial costs, etc.
Law enforcement argues that civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps defund organized crime, prevent new crimes from being committed and weaken criminal cartels. Critics of civil forfeiture argue that it denies property owners basic due process rights and that giving law enforcement a financial stake in civil forfeiture can distort their priorities and encourage the pursuit of property over the administration of justice.
Property that is subject to forfeiture includes any property that has been or is intended to be utilized in furtherance of unlawful activity, is intended to become an integral part of illegal activity or represents the proceeds of illegal activity.
Property most often seized is money (United States currency), but can include anything including motor vehicles, homes, cell phones, computers, weapons, etc.
Depending on the jurisdiction, if property is seized by law enforcement and that property is other than prima facie contraband (i.e. illegal drugs, etc.), then law enforcement must file a civil lawsuit against the property to be forfeited within 90 days of the seizure of the property (in NJ). The lawsuit must be verified on oath, and must describe the property that is subject to forfeiture and set forth the reason the property was seized.
Once a lawsuit is filed, any person with a property interest in the property can file an answer to the lawsuit, and demand a return of the property. Once a lawsuit is filed, the forfeiture claim proceeds like any other civil lawsuit. In forfeiture proceedings, it is the State’s burden to prove that the property seized was intended to be utilized in furtherance of unlawful activity, was intended to become an integral part of illegal activity, or represented the proceeds of illegal activity. Many times, if criminal charges are also pending, the civil forfeiture case will be stayed until the resolution of the criminal charges.
The criminal defense lawyers at Nugent Law have successfully defended civil lawsuits filed by federal law enforcement or local Prosecutors Offices seeking to forfeit their client’s property. There are defenses to these cases, and are often times won or settled. Some clients have “innocent owner” defenses, which means that they had no knowledge that there property would be used in illegal activity. If the client is an “innocent owner” they are entitled to the return of the property. Other times, Prosecutors cannot prove that the property was the proceeds of illegal activity or were intended to be used in furtherance of illegal activity.
Few lawyers have litigated property forfeiture cases, and even fewer lawyers have litigated civil asset forfeiture cases successfully for their clients. If your property has been seized by law enforcement, you need the experience and skill of an attorney who has challenged and won civil asset forfeiture cases. The criminal defense lawyers at Nugent Law have 30 years of experience defending civil forfeiture cases, and have obtained many successful results on behalf of their clients.
Call Now — We Are Here To Assist You
You have the right to challenge the seizure and attempted civil asset forfeiture of your property. Call the criminal defense lawyers at Nugent Law to schedule your free consultation at 856-596-9770 or contact our firm online. If you cannot meet during regular office hours, we can arrange an evening or weekend appointment by special request. Our firm accepts all major credit cards for your convenience.