25 Sep 23

Can New York prosecutors seize assets related to an alleged crime before conviction?

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Last Updated on: 25th September 2023, 05:49 pm

Can New York Prosecutors Seize Assets Before a Conviction?

This is a complicated legal question with no simple yes or no answer. The short answer is sometimes prosecutors can seize assets before a conviction, but there are a lot of caveats and legal limitations around when and how they can do that. Let’s break it down.

What is Asset Forfeiture?

Asset forfeiture is when the government seizes property connected to a crime. The idea is to take away tools and proceeds of criminal activity. For example, if someone is arrested for drug dealing, the police might seize cash, cars, or houses they think came from drug sales. The property can be forfeited (taken permanently) even if the person is never convicted or even charged with a crime in some cases.

When Can Assets Be Seized Before Conviction in New York?

There are a few different ways assets can be seized before conviction in New York:

  • Warrantless seizures – If assets are in plain view or there are exigent circumstances, police can seize them on the spot without a warrant. For example, cash found during a traffic stop.
  • Seizure warrants – Prosecutors can get a warrant to seize assets they think are connected to a crime, even before charges are filed.
  • Civil forfeiture – New York has civil forfeiture laws that allow assets to be forfeited through a civil court case, without criminal charges.

So in many cases, assets can be seized early on during an investigation or even without criminal charges ever being filed. However, there are some limits.

Limits on Pre-Conviction Asset Seizure

While asset forfeiture in New York can happen without a conviction, there are some legal limitations prosecutors must follow:

  • Probable cause – To seize assets initially, prosecutors must show probable cause the assets are connected to a crime.
  • Higher standard to forfeit – To permanently forfeit assets, the standard is higher than probable cause. The prosecution must prove by a “preponderance of evidence” that the assets are linked to criminal activity.
  • Real property limitations – Unlike federal law, New York state prosecutors cannot civilly forfeit real estate except in some drug cases. This protects homes.
  • Innocent owner rights – New York has innocent owner defenses that protect third-party property owners if they did not know of or consent to any criminal use of their property.

These protections mean prosecutors cannot just take property on a whim before conviction. They need evidence assets are linked to crimes, and innocent owners have legal recourse to get their property back.

Fighting Pre-Conviction Asset Seizure

If your assets were seized by New York prosecutors before any conviction, you have legal options to challenge the seizure. A knowledgeable criminal defense or asset forfeiture attorney can help you fight on grounds like:

  • No probable cause – Argue there is scant or no real evidence your property is connected to any alleged crime.
  • Hardship – Innocent dependents may rely on the assets for food, housing, medical care, education, etc. Seizure causes undue hardship.
  • Excessive fine – Asset forfeiture before conviction could violate the Eighth Amendment protection against excessive fines.
  • Property rights – Seizure violates fundamental property rights, especially if based on minimal evidence.

An experienced attorney knows the proper procedures to make these arguments and get your property returned promptly. Acting quickly is important.

The Bottom Line

While asset forfeiture is a powerful tool for prosecutors, legal safeguards exist in New York to protect innocent property owners. With an attorney’s help, you can fight improper or excessive seizure of assets before any conviction occurs. The law provides ways to challenge these seizures and recover your property.