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Federal Criminal Asset Forfeiture

January 3, 2020

Asset forfeiture can be practiced on either a state or a federal level. Different states have different procedures and rules in place regarding asset forfeiture. The federal regulations remain the same regardless of the state you’re in. When you talk to a federal asset forfeiture attorney, they can explain the important differences between federal asset forfeiture and the asset forfeiture procedures in the courts of whatever state you reside in.

State asset forfeitures are typically completed through the District Attorney’s office or through the office of the Attorney General. Meanwhile, federal asset forfeitures are presided over by the Attorney’s Office of the United States. Federal law regarding forfeitures codifies three types of actions: administrative, civil or in rem, and criminal. Asset forfeitures on a federal level are managed by Assistant United States Attorney Generals. These are attorneys who work on behalf of the federal government in more than ninety different federal sections throughout the US.

Some states, like New Jersey and Connecticut, have only one federal district that encompasses all the counties and individuals living inside the borders. But for larger and more populous states, the land is broken down further into segmented districts. If you live in New York, the federal district you’re part of will vary depending on your geographic location in the state. There are four federal districts, one of which encompasses roughly each cardinal location on the map.

When federal asset forfeiture occurs, it’s most commonly of the criminal type. A criminal forfeiture occurs when the federal government informs you that, should you be convicted of a crime you’ve been charged with, the government will forfeit certain pieces of your property. Sometimes the government will already know what pieces of property they intend to seize, in which case these pieces of property must be detailed and explained on the initial indictment. The government might also put in writing that they are seeking a “money judgment,” which occurs when a judge rules that you owe a certain sum of money. Usually, the sum of money is the same as the amount of money you supposedly made from your criminal activity.

There are stipulations in federal law that indicate that criminal forfeiture can be used as a portion of a defendant’s sentence. Criminal forfeiture cannot be authorized except through a United States District Judge, an approved federal judge who makes rulings in federal criminal cases. The forfeiture is usually handed down as part of the sentence when an individual is convicted of a crime. Forfeitures don’t need to be proven beyond a reasonable contest; they only need to be based on a cursory examination of evidence. Because of this, it’s vital that you have the guidance of an experienced federal forfeiture attorney who can understand your options and the importance of the sentence being passed. Should you challenge the terms of the forfeiture after your trial is concluded and you’ve been sentenced, the situation will usually turn into an entirely new mini-trial.

If a federal prosecutor intends to begin a criminal forfeiture procedure, the first step is to inform the defendant that the US government intends to forfeit that person’s property in the event of a conviction. This notice needs to be included in an official criminal indictment. As such, the investigating entity needs to be considering and planning for forfeiture early in the criminal investigation process. It can’t be shoehorned in later.

If the criminal case goes to trial rather than being dismissed or ending in a plea deal, there will be no mention of asset forfeiture until a verdict has been rendered. Assuming the defendant is found guilty, a new proceeding will begin to determine the asset forfeiture. To forfeit a defendant’s property, the government is required to provide evidence indicating that the property is tied to their criminal activity. It’s not required that the government prove this fact beyond a reasonable doubt.

When a jury considers forfeiture, owning the property in question isn’t an issue. In fact, to keep the government from unfairly seizing property from criminally convicted individuals, there is legislation specifying that the government is only able to forfeit the property of a defendant who is convicted in federal criminal proceedings. If the property belongs to a person other than the defendant, like a spouse or immediate family member, the government has no right to seize it.

One problem that may arise is that third parties affected by a criminal case cannot make their voices heard during that case in federal court. As such, if you’re a person whose property is being seized due to another individual’s criminal actions, you’ll need to wait for the initial proceedings to conclude. Then you’ll be able to participate in an ancillary proceeding, which is the point at which third parties are allowed to assert their property rights.



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