The Washington Post recently reported on one especially troubling tale of civil forfeiture. The Department of Justice has a civil forfeiture system in place that is making it possible for police to seize billions of dollars in property and money, often from people who have not even committed any crimes. The laws are biased in favor of law enforcement being allowed to keep property and assets and many people whose money and possessions are seized are not able to ever get their property back.
If you have had your assets taken, you are not going to be able to resolve this legal issue on your own. You need a top criminal defense lawyer who can help you to fight the Department of Justice’s biased rules to try to recover the funds or assets that were taken from you. Your attorney can also help you if you are subsequently charged with a crime, although many people who are victims of a civil forfeiture action never end up facing criminal charges at all.
Civil Forfeiture and the Loss of Assets and Funds
The Civil Forfeiture program of the Department of Justice allows law enforcement officers to take property if officers suspect that the owner of that property is involved in illegal activity. In practice, even the vaguest suspicion of possible criminal involvement is being used to seize billions.
The case reported on by the Washington Post, for example, involved a young man who was traveling on an Amtrak train to Los Angeles. The young man was hoping to start a music video company and he had his life savings of $16,000 with him on the train. While the man was in route to his destination, a DEA agent boarded the train and begin asking passengers where they were headed. The man answered and explained that he was going to Los Angeles to make a music video.
The DEA agent asked if he could search his bags and the man agreed. The agent found the $16,000 in cash in a bank envelope and although the man could explain why he had the money (he had previously had a hard time making large withdrawals from an out-of-state bank), the DEA did not believe the story. The agents called the young man’s mother, who corroborated his tale, but the DEA still claimed to believe the money was generated from involvement with illegal drugs.
Despite no drugs, no guns, and nothing in the man’s belongings indicating that he was involved in the drug trade in any way, the law enforcement officers took the full $16,000 that the young man had in his possession. He is trying to get some of the funds back with the help of an attorney, but like others who have their property seized, he faces an uphill battle. This is because there is no presumption of innocence under civil forfeiture laws as there is when a person is charged with a crime.
When property has been seized through civil forfeiture, the money – and not the person it belongs to- is presumed to be guilty. The burden of proof that the money was not obtained through illegal activities falls upon the person who the assets belonged to before they were seized.
Widespread complaints about this unfair process resulted in the U.S. Attorney General making some changes to restrict the use of certain kinds of civil asset forfeiture. However, these changes affected only a small percentage of the forfeitures that local law enforcement agencies initiate. The DEA and other federal agencies still have free reign to take people’s property.
If you have had a run-in with a federal agency, you need help from an experienced criminal lawyer who understands how to fight for your rights. Call today to speak with a federal criminal defense lawyer for help.