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Most people know that certain assets can be seized when a person is arrested. Items that constitute evidence are always taken. Illegal drugs or controlled substances are also subject to seizure. Vehicles, guns, and other property used in a crime are also seized.
Most people are less familiar with what happens to the seized property after the arrest. They also may be unsure under what circumstances the government can seize property not used in a crime. Another common question is what happens when someone other than the accused owns part or all of the seized property.
Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors hate to admit it, but innocent people are subject to property seizure in California every day. Though state laws provide strict restrictions on asset seizures and asset forfeitures, there are many pitfalls and traps government lawyers can use to get around these protections. In a perfect world, the only people to have their assets seized and forfeited would be dangerous criminals and drug kingpins. They would lose property like high-powered machine guns and yachts purchased with the proceeds of crime.
Though this is the image the government often projects, the truth is most asset forfeitures are for everyday property, much of which law-abiding citizens own. California asset seizure and forfeiture laws provide methods for legitimate property owners to protect their assets. If your property has been seized and is in danger of forfeiture, contact our law firm right away. In many cases, you must file a claim for the property within 30 days. Failure to claim can result in the forfeiture becoming final.
You have the right to the return of all legitimate property. Call out firm today to fight asset forfeiture.
Seizure Versus Forfeiture
Seizure describes law enforcement’s initial taking of the property by law enforcement. For example, the California Highway Patrol enacts property seizure when it impounds a vehicle after discovering drugs hidden in the trunk during a traffic stop. Seizure is not final. After seizure, the property is either returned to the owner at a later date or forfeited.
Forfeiture is final. When a property has been legally forfeited, it is gone forever. For this reason, it is extremely important to file a timely claim.
Property valued at less than $25,000 is subject to administrative forfeiture, while property valued at over $25,000 must go through judicial forfeiture. Under administrative forfeiture, the prosecutor serves notice to the property owner that the property faces forfeiture. Notice is served via mail. If that option isn’t available, the prosecutor can fulfill the notice requirement by posting it in the newspaper. If the owner fails to file a claim and serve it on the prosecutor, the property is forfeited.
If the property owner files a claim, the process must be converted to a judicial forfeiture. All property valued at over $25,000 must start as a judicial forfeiture.
Under judicial forfeiture, the prosecutor must file a petition in the county where the property was seized or where the crime is alleged to have taken place. The prosecutor must provide notice, either through the mail or newspaper, unless notice was already provided during by the administrative procedure.
The owner must file a claim within 30 days! If no claim is filed, the prosecutor can motion the court to make the forfeiture final. When there is no claim, the prosecutor enjoys a very low standard of proof.
When the claim is filed, the property cannot be forfeited without a jury trial. The prosecutor must prove that the property was used in the crime or derived from crime. Prosecutors must also prove that all owners consented to the criminal activity. In cases where the property is worth less than $25,000, the prosecutor must provide clear and convincing proof, while in cases over $25,000, the prosecutor must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Why you need an experienced, aggressive asset forfeiture defense attorney
The state has many opportunities to complete forfeiture on legitimate property. Accused people can lose their property even before they are convicted. People whose vehicles are used in a crime without their knowledge may be forced to fight in court to keep their vehicles. Our attorneys know the law, and they know all the tricks the state plays. They can cut through the bureaucratic red tape for you and get your property back fast. If necessary, they will represent you in court and show the jury that the prosecutor’s arguments hold no water.