If you stand accused of a crime or of being part of a criminal enterprise, law enforcement officials may seize your assets. Government agencies from the local to federal level seize items such as cash, cars and even homes. They often adopt a "seize first, ask questions later" attitude regarding the process. It doesn't matter whether you are guilty or whether you owned certain assets prior to your supposed crime.
If prosecutors fail in their attempts to secure a conviction against you, you would think that you get your property back. More than likely, you will end up surprised by the fact that the government might not want to return your property, and you could face significant challenges in getting it back.
Why does law enforcement use asset forfeiture?
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, asset forfeiture originated in order to keep vessels and their contraband from escaping after acts of piracy. These days, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use it for slightly different purposes. The theory is that the seizure of assets supposedly purchased through criminal activity helps to dismantle and disrupt you or a criminal enterprise. Supposedly, it also acts as a deterrent for others who might want to engage in certain criminal activity such as the following:
- Drug dealing
- White-collar crimes
- Operating as a criminal organization
Asset forfeiture also serves as a way to return stolen property to victims and protect communities, according to the FBI.
How does asset forfeiture occur?
Three different processes deal with the seizure of assets. Each falls under a different court or government body:
- Administrative forfeiture
- Criminal forfeiture
- Civil judicial forfeiture
You have the right to contest the seizure of your assets under each type of forfeiture. You may need to meet certain deadlines and documentation requirements as part of the proceedings.
Your right to legal assistance
As you work to get back property seized from you by the government, it would be advantageous to have a legal ally at your side. Understanding the type of forfeiture is only the first step in the process of attempting to regain your property. Court proceedings and administrative processes often involve a significant amount of paperwork and knowledge of the law. The government will have legal counsel on its side, so why shouldn't you.