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How Does Asset Forfeiture Work?

house locked up in chains to symbolize asset forfeiture

Seizure of Property by the Police & Criminal Forfeiture At-a-Glance

Did you know the police can legally take your belongings if those items are believed to be connected to a crime? They can, and this process is called asset forfeiture. Asset forfeiture involves the seizure of cash, property, or other items suspected of being tied to a crime as well as the transfer of ownership of these items to the government. Proceeds from those assets help supplement funds for law enforcement activities. In other words, the government can take your stuff and use it to further its agendas.

The purpose of asset forfeiture is to punish, disrupt, and deter criminal activity by seizing items acquired through the criminal activity or items used to further the activity. Assets seized in forfeiture can be anything from houses to cars to jewelry and more. With this in mind, you might be thinking, “How does asset forfeiture work?”

Criminal asset forfeiture relating to drugs is among the most common types of asset forfeiture, although, the police also seize and forfeit assets in cases concerning organized crime, fraud, trafficking, and more. Asset forfeiture in drug-related cases typically involves three steps:

Seizure: California law allows asset forfeiture in certain cases, such as when individuals are suspected of selling certain drugs, it is related to a search warrant, or there is probable cause to believe the assets accused to violate state drug laws. However, there are limits. For instance, California prohibits the seizure of real property if it’s being used as a family home or for other legal reasons.

Adjudication: Once assets are seized, legal proceedings at the state or federal level will be held to determine whether the seizure was appropriate and if the assets can be distributed. The result of these proceedings is an order to either forfeit the items or return them to a specific party. For your knowledge, the two proceedings in which asset forfeiture occurs are:

  • Administrative proceedings: In cases where asset forfeiture is NOT contested, the items fall below a certain value threshold, or court involvement isn’t required, administrative proceedings may take place. In California, for instance, assets can be forfeited if they total less than $25,000 and no contest is filed within 30 days.
  • Judicial proceedings: In California, judicial proceedings are required in drug-related forfeitures where a person files a claim contesting the seizure. Since drug-related asset forfeitures are usually criminal proceedings, the burden of proof is the highest of all standards, requiring proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Distribution: The last step is the distribution of net proceeds secured through the drug-related asset forfeitures. Each state and the federal government determine how asset forfeiture proceeds can be used, such as to supplement funds for police equipment and training (required by California law). Other California laws on the distribution of drug-related asset forfeitures include:

  • 1% of net proceeds must go to a nonprofit organization of local prosecutors for training on asset forfeiture ($303,000 in 2018).
  • 10% goes to the prosecutorial agency that processed the forfeiture (about $3.3 million in 2018).
  • 24% goes to the state General Fund (about $7.3 million in 2018).
  • 65% must go to law enforcement entities that participated in the seizure (about $19.6 million in 2018). 15% of that number will help fund programs to combat drug abuse and divert gang activity.

As you can see, you could lose your prized possessions for good if you are merely suspected of a drug crime, not even convicted. This nightmare could easily derail your livelihood. With the help of a good attorney, however, you will be better protected from asset forfeiture abuse by the government. The police make mistakes and officials are no strangers to breaking the rules and creating loopholes in the system. Thus, your lawyer may be able to expose these errors and fight to get your assets back to you, where they belong.

Discuss your case and understand your odds of achieving a favorable outcome today. Contact our firm at (707) 418-5352!