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27 Jul 23

Federal Administrative Asset Forfeiture Lawyers

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Last Updated on: 11th August 2023, 08:35 pm

Federal Administrative Asset Forfeiture Lawyers

It is never any fun to find yourself at the center of an asset forfeiture case. The is a process by which it seems that every type of government agency you can imagine works ruthlessly to seize hold of almost anything that you own. This can include all types of private property such as money, your bank accounts, various estates that you own, vehicles, and just about anything else that you have ownership over.

If you are involved in such a case, you need a qualified lawyer working on your case. This is because there are literally thousands of different federal statutes that the government can use to request an asset forfeiture. To go through them all on your own is almost certainly an exercise in futility. Each statute can be used the give the government the authority to take your property if it can be proven that there is a connection between your assets and some type of activity that is against the law. Even the smallest hint of probable cause can give the government the right to take action against your assets, as the burden of proof is not very strict in this case right from the beginning.

Two Types of Asset Forfeiture

There are two different types of asset forfeiture cases. One is handled at the state level via either a District Attorney or the Attorney General for the state. The second type of case is federal asset forfeiture, and that is what we are focusing on here. There are three main areas where federal law deals with asset forfeiture. They are:

  • Criminal
  • Civil
  • Administrative

These cases are almost always driven by the Assistant United States Attorney General of the district in which you reside.

Administrative Forfeiture

This type of forfeiture takes place when the federal government acts to take property that no individual has laid proper claim to prior to a certain claim expiring. If the property has been seized and is subsequently deemed to be abandoned, the title for that asset will past onto the federal government. This is without the issue ever even reaching the court.

The ability of the federal government to start an administrative forfeiture proceeding is granted in the Tariff Act of 1930. Specifically, it is 19 U.S.C. 1607. The type of property that can be administratively forfeited includes any good that is imported illegally, any container used to import or store a controlled substance, money, or any form of property that is valued less than $500,000.

The purpose of any asset forfeiture is designed to thwart criminal enterprises. Individuals who are engaged in illegitimate businesses will be subject to forfeiture laws. At the same time, it needs to be proven that the business is not legitimate. If you have been accused of a crime that you did not commit, you need legal representation in order to ensure that your assets remain safe and in your name. You will want a professional criminal lawyer working on this for you from the beginning.

The Process Involved

A Federal prosecutor is required to provide notice to the individual before starting a forfeiture case. This notice must declare the intent to seize the forfeited property. If a criminal case is involved, then this forfeiture is mentioned as a possibility up until the moment that a verdict is issued. It is then that a separate court hearing will be held that relates to the forfeiture of assets. If the accused individual is actually found guilty, then the federal government will use the forfeiture hearing to demonstrate a direct link between the crime and the assets that are to be seized.

It is important to note that property belonging to someone else cannot be confiscated by the government. This is because third parties are shielded from being held liable to participate in a criminal case that is held in federal court. If you own assets that are being forfeited because somebody else is facing a criminal trial, then you will need to wait for the case proceedings to end. It is at this time that you can stipulate your intention to take back possession of the assets that you own.

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Federal Administrative Asset Forfeiture Lawyers

Most of us are at least peripherally aware that the federal government can request and receive from the court system a forfeiture of assets including cars, property, and more when they are involved with criminal activity. What might be less known is that the majority of the asset forfeitures in the United States occur administratively, that is without permission of a judge or jury. An administrative forfeiture occurs most often during the course of a raid where an agency like the FBI, DEA, or Secret Service simply seizes property and takes it with them when they leave. Scary but true. The good news is you do have recourse but should be prepared to act quickly. If you are convicted, you might want to consider appealing the crime and speaking to a federal criminal appeals lawyer.

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The Administrative Forfeiture Process

Up until the year 2000, with the passing of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), there were fewer constraints on how a federal agency could seize and keep property. Since CAFRA, the process goes something like this:

Seizure: When property (excluding real estate or anything over $500,000 in value) is seized, the agency involved must start the administrative forfeiture within a defined period of time and also must give potential claimants enough time to stake their legal claim on the goods. Basically, this prevents the federal government from dilly-dallying forever while they decide whether or not to actually start a forfeiture and provides a window of opportunity broad enough to allow possible rightful owners to act to protect their property.

Claims: During the course of an investigation, an agency with probable cause can take property from your home, car, or right out of your pocket. As with most dealings with the federal government, there are legal processes in place to prevent abuse of power. The problem is that the average citizen might not understand the nuances and timelines involved in initiating a claim that has at least a fighting chance of resulting in property wrongly taken being rightfully returned. Keep in mind that if the property is entangled in illegal activity, such as purchased with drug money, you might be clean out of luck and will have many years sitting in prison to ponder the injustice of it all.

60 is an Important Number

If you remember nothing else from this article, stick the number 60 somewhere in your brain. That is how many days a federal agency has to to provide written notice to any and all interested parties that it intends to administratively forfeit the property. This is the case even if a subsequent party is identified after notice has been provided to what were believed to be the only relevant parties.

The reason this time frame is so important is that if the agency misses the deadline, no further action can be taken with the intention of holding the property seized as a result of the original alleged offense. In fact, the property must be returned under these conditions as long as it isn’t illegal to do so. Obviously, if the the property seized is a ton of cocaine ready to be sold on the street, you’re probably not going to get it back no matter how many deadlines are missed.

Why You Might Contest a Seizure

According to the FBI, most administrative seizures are not contested. The reason is obvious once you consider that many of these types of investigations are based on pursuing serious criminals conducting serious crimes. By the time an agency has progressed to the point of seizing property, the target has bigger problems to worry about – like not spending the rest of his or her natural life in prison.

We don’t like to think about it, but there are always examples of the government making a mistake. That’s why a contested seizure cannot be completed administratively but must be kicked over to be pursued by the government as either a criminal or civil judicial forfeiture, neither of which can be concluded unilaterally. It must be heard by a judge or jury or both first.

Thinking of the Victims

Before concluding that the federal government is simply a power-mad entity looking to own the world, consider that much of the property seized is returned to victims of crimes. Over the past decade, the Department of Justice has paid about $4 billion in restitution to victims of crimes ranging from financial scams to outright murder. This is no reason to not fight for what is properly yours, just know an overly eager agency may not be looking to possess property for the most obvious of reasons. There is a plan at work beneath it all.

The Bottom Line

While there are some court proceedings a citizen might be capable of handling without professional legal advice, when federal administrative asset forfeiture is involved, it’s probably a good idea to at least consult with an attorney before you inadvertently lay yourself down on the buzzsaw of the federal court system. The government isn’t playing around, and an innocent mistake on your part, either through ignorance or foolhardiness, could result in the property disappearing from your ownership forever. Don’t expect a do over if you screw it up. This is a case where it must be done right the first time or it’s sayonara forever.

Federal Administrative Asset Forfeiture

In certain circumstances, federal agencies of the United States government are able to forfeit a person’s property under an administrative clause. Administrative forfeiture can be accomplished without the case ever needing to be argued or proven in court. There are many defendants who, when their property is seized by the government, simply give up and don’t make an effort to contest the issue. When the defendant doesn’t involve legal counsel or contest the problem, the forfeited property becomes owned by the United States government.

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Multiple federal agencies oftentimes make an effort to administratively forfeit the property of defendants. Unfortunately, many of the defendants don’t believe that they have a case, and they worry that they can’t afford a lawyer. The United States government often operates like a well-oiled machine, and these agencies are used to muscling in and using paperwork loopholes to take your property. However, if you do retain an asset seizure or forfeiture lawyer, they can help you determine whether you have a case. They can also help you file the necessary paperwork to contest a seizure in time. Many people don’t understand the legal process to file an appeal, and by the time they’ve figured it out, it’s too late. A lawyer is already familiar with all the necessary paperwork and deadlines, so they can take the hassle out of your hands.

Asset seizure and forfeiture lawyers specifically practice in this area of the law. They’re familiar with what an administrative seizure means. They know when this type of forfeiture can be legally imposed upon a person, when it can be contested, and how to contest it.

One of the biggest things is to take the first step. Most people don’t get that far. You have to make a claim on your forfeited property within a certain period of time. After you’ve made your claim, the initial seizure will be documented and sent to a prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor will go over the details of the case and decide whether a judicial case can be started. Judicial cases include all criminal and civil cases.

Regardless of whether the forfeiture was administrative or not, you always have a right to go to court. Many people don’t realize that. They think that the government is powerful enough to take anything they want, and that trying to go to court will bring unwanted consequences down on them. That isn’t the case. It’s vital that you understand your rights. These agencies depend upon you not knowing that you can contest a seizure, and most people play right into their plans. You also always have the right to be represented by legal counsel in a forfeiture, and your lawyer can always review the facts of your case regardless of whether it’s administrative or judicial.

Federal regulations impose very strict deadlines on when you can file a claim regarding an administrative asset forfeiture. Part of this is for the sake of efficiency, but most of it is so that busy people won’t have the time to get the necessary paperwork together until it’s too late. With this type of asset forfeiture, you’re racing against the clock more than you’re racing against the government. Getting together the correct legal paperwork and sending it through the right channels is exhausting if you aren’t familiar with the legal system, especially if you’re already trying to work a normal job. That’s where an experienced lawyer comes in. If you miss the deadlines, you’ll be considered to have defaulted on the forfeiture, and you won’t be able to contest it.

Most Successful Forfeitures Are Administrative

When the United States government tries to seize your property through the court system, there’s a lot of avenues you can use to get it back. When you invoke legal counsel, there’s also a lot of red tape that agencies need to work around in order to prove they have the right to take your property. To get around that, most agencies rely on administrative asset forfeiture because the average person doesn’t know how to combat it. Most people don’t realize that they always have the right to a court date, even when the forfeiture was done without any court paperwork. Even if people do realize, they often don’t have the energy or the time to get the needed paperwork filed in the short amount of time available.

Most individuals who have their assets forfeited don’t contest the forfeiture. The process is usually started when agencies like the DEA or FBI seize property while doing a criminal investigation. They might take the property from your clothes, home, car, or place of business. Law enforcement officials only have to display probable cause and a belief that a crime was committed on the property or is being committed on the property. Once this is established, they can seize property in an administrative capacity.