Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases: Seized Property & Cash

Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases: Seized Property & Cash

Asset forfeiture is a legal process that allows law enforcement to seize assets, like cash, cars, and property, that they suspect have been involved in certain criminal activity. This often happens during drug busts, where police may seize large amounts of cash, vehicles, or homes that they believe are connected to drug trafficking.

Asset forfeiture can be a complex and controversial topic. On one hand, it provides law enforcement with a powerful tool to disrupt major criminal organizations by hitting them where it hurts – their wallets and assets. However, there are also concerns around civil liberties and making sure innocent people don’t get caught up in the process.

How Asset Forfeiture Works

There are a few key things to understand about how asset forfeiture works in drug cases:

  • Police have broad authority to seize assets – If police suspect an asset is tied to illegal drug activity, even indirectly, they can often seize it on the spot without even filing criminal charges. Things like large amounts of cash, cars, homes, or jewelry may be confiscated.
  • The burden is on the owner to prove assets are “innocent” – Unlike criminal law where people are innocent until proven guilty, with civil asset forfeiture, property owners bear the burden of proving their property is not connected to crime. This can be difficult and expensive to fight.
  • Much of the assets go back to law enforcement agencies – Controversially, law enforcement agencies often get to keep some or all of the seized assets, which critics argue creates a profit motive and incentives to abuse civil forfeiture powers.
  • Asset recovery lawyers help owners fight back – Experienced legal help can be crucial for property owners who want to challenge unfair seizures. Asset recovery attorneys understand civil forfeiture law and procedures.

Seizure of Cash & Bank Accounts

One of the most common assets seized in drug cases is cash. After busting someone for drug possession, trafficking, distribution, police will often confiscate any cash they find if they suspect it is proceeds of illegal drug sales.

Police can seize cash during traffic stops, home searches, busts of drug houses, etc. The seizure of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars is not uncommon during major drug stings or investigations targeting high level distributors or drug rings.

Related assets like bank accounts may also be frozen or seized if connected to drug money. Even if the cash itself is not physically seized, investigators can get court orders to freeze bank accounts and seize funds if they can show probable cause the money is tied to drug crimes.

Getting seized cash returned can be an uphill legal battle for property owners. The government holds the money as it investigates and builds a civil forfeiture case. Even if a defendant beats the criminal drug charges, the forfeiture case may still proceed, forcing the accused to prove the cash came from legitimate means.

Seizure of Vehicles & Boats

Vehicles are another common target for seizure in drug cases. Police may confiscate cars, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, and even boats if they believe they have been used to transport or facilitate illegal drugs.

A vehicle can be seized for forfeiture even if only tiny drug traces are found inside. And police are also given broad leeway to take vehicles based on circumstantial evidence of involvement in trafficking. For example, a car may be confiscated if an owner is merely suspected of using it drive to and from drug deals, even without drugs found inside.

Winning back a seized vehicle often requires convincing documentation and evidence that it was not used for transporting drugs. Car forfeiture battles often come down to the strength of the law enforcement suspicions versus legal arguments negating the theories for seizure.

Seizure of Houses & Real Estate

Investigators may also pursue seizure of real estate if they believe property has facilitated drug crimes. This could include houses, condos, apartment buildings, land, etc.

Most commonly, police target houses suspected of hosting drug production or distribution operations. For example, if a house is busted as a marijuana grow site or meth lab, prosecutors can take forfeiture action to claim the property as illegally used criminal assets.

However, even rental homes, apartments or condos can be seized if tenants are caught selling drugs on the premises. This is because many state laws prohibit allowing property to be used for drug crimes. Homeowners can lose titles based on a tenant’s activities if they fail to mitigate illegal use of their properties.

Winning back seized homes often requires showing not only that the owner was not involved in the drug crimes, but also that they took reasonable steps to prevent criminal misuse of their property. This is a complex area of asset forfeiture law where legal counsel is essential.

Getting Help Fighting Asset Seizures

As this overview shows, recovering seized property and cash in drug cases involves navigating complex civil forfeiture laws. Having an experienced attorney makes a major difference.

Asset recovery lawyers know how to build strong legal arguments challenging unfair seizures or disproportionate forfeitures. They also understand complicated state procedures for contesting seizures and navigating forfeiture litigation.

A lawyer can also negotiate settlements with prosecutors when needed. In some cases, this may allow owners to recover a percentage of seized assets instead of gambling on an uncertain verdict at trial.

Don’t hesitate to contact an attorney for help if you face asset forfeiture after a drug arrest or investigation. Time limits apply, so acting quickly is key. With an attorney’s assistance, many people are able to recover some or all of their seized assets.

Fighting Asset Forfeiture on Your Own

While professional legal help is advisable, some property owners decide to contest seizures independently to save on lawyers fees. This is certainly an option, but it carries more risks and uncertainty.

If you want to fight asset forfeiture without an attorney, here are some steps to take:

  • Learn your state laws – Carefully research the civil asset forfeiture statutes and procedures in your state. Deadlines and notice requirements vary.
  • File a claim on seized assets – You must file a legal claim requesting the return of your property. Strict deadlines apply after police send seizure notices.
  • Gather exonerating evidence – Compile documentation showing assets are unrelated to criminal activity. Bank records, titles, payment receipts, or other proof can help.
  • Negotiate with prosecutors – Discuss settlement options with state attorneys. You may be able to recover some assets without a trial. Get any deal in writing.
  • Request a forfeiture hearing – If settlement talks fail, petition for a hearing before a judge or magistrate to formally argue against forfeiture of your property.

Avoiding Asset Seizures in Drug Cases

While fighting back against asset forfeiture is possible, it’s always better to avoid seizures in the first place when dealing with drug allegations. Some basic precautions include:

  • Never keeping large amounts of unexplained cash around if you or family members could face drug charges.
  • Not letting others store property or assets in your name that may be tied to their drug activities.
  • Being very careful about property rentals, ensuring tenants are not using sites for drug operations.
  • Carrying proof of legitimate income/assets in case large amounts of cash, property or vehicles need to be explained to police.

Again, if assets are seized despite preventative measures, be sure to contact an attorney immediately for guidance responding to seizure notices and building your case. Acting promptly is essential to get seized property returned.