Asset ForfeitureAsset Forfeiture in Drug-Related Cases: What You Need to Know

June 6, 2024

Asset forfeiture is a legal process that allows law enforcement to seize assets, like cars, real estate, and cash that are suspected to have been involved in criminal activity. Asset forfeiture is commonly used in drug-related cases as a way for police to disrupt illegal operations by taking away tools and proceeds of the drug trade. However, asset forfeiture has also increasingly become controversial due to concerns about abuse of power and lack of due process for property owners. This article provides an overview of how asset forfeiture works in drug cases and what options citizens have for fighting back if their property is seized.

How Asset Forfeiture Works in Drug Cases

There are two main types of asset forfeiture that can occur in drug cases: criminal and civil.

Criminal Asset Forfeiture

Criminal asset forfeiture occurs when assets are seized in connection with an arrest and criminal charges. The assets are held as evidence while the criminal case proceeds. If the defendant is convicted, the assets may be forfeited as part of their sentence. The standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the same high standard used for proving guilt in criminal trials.

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture does not require criminal charges or a conviction. Law enforcement can seize assets they suspect are connected to illegal drug activity through a civil action filed against the property itself. The standard of proof is much lower than a criminal case – “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning it’s more likely than not the assets are drug-related.

With civil forfeiture, the owner must effectively prove their innocence to get their property back, which can be extremely difficult. This has led many critics to claim civil forfeiture violates due process and property rights.

How Police Seize Assets in Drug Cases

Law enforcement has very broad power to seize property in drug investigations. Possible assets up for grabs include:

  • Cash – Any amount of cash found in proximity to drugs or suspected drug activity can be seized as alleged drug proceeds. There is no minimum threshold. Police often seize amounts under $1000.
  • Cars, boats, aircraft – Vehicles can be seized if drugs are found inside or they are used to transport drugs. Even incidental use like driving to buy drugs can justify seizure.
  • Houses – Real estate can be seized if any amount of drugs is sold from the property or drug activity occurred on the premises. Police do not have to prove the owner was involved in or aware of the criminal conduct.
  • Bank accounts – Accounts holding money tied to drug crimes or transactions can be frozen and forfeited.
  • Jewelry, electronics, and other valuables – These items are often seized under the theory they were purchased with drug profits or used to facilitate drug deals.

Property can be seized without notice and held by police indefinitely – even without filing charges – while an investigation proceeds.

Fighting Civil Asset Forfeiture

Citizens who find their assets seized in civil forfeiture face daunting odds. Most forfeitures go uncontested because hiring a lawyer often costs more than the seized property’s value. However, fighting back is critical, especially when the seizure threatens your livelihood. Here are tips for challenging civil forfeiture:

  • Retain an attorney – Find an experienced lawyer to contest the forfeiture in court.
  • Act quickly – There are strict deadlines, often just 30 days, to file a claim on seized property. Missing them can forfeit your rights.
  • Gather evidence – Bank statements, receipts, business records, and testimony showing your property is unrelated to criminal activity can help get it back.
  • Request a hearing – This gives you an opportunity to tell your side of the story and argue against forfeiture. Do this with an attorney present.
  • Negotiate for settlement – Many cases end in a settlement where law enforcement returns part of the seized property. But you usually need an attorney to get to the negotiating table.
  • Consider state law – In 2016, Florida passed forfeiture reform, so consult an attorney about your state protections. Some states have passed stricter laws against policing for profit.

Protecting Your Assets from Forfeiture

While forfeiture can feel arbitrary and unfair, there are some precautions citizens can take to reduce their risks:

  • Maintain detailed records showing your assets were obtained legally through employment, investments, or other legitimate means.
  • If you regularly carry large cash amounts for business purposes, get documentation showing the cash flow is for lawful reasons.
  • Avoid constantly depositing or withdrawing just under $10,000 in cash, which raises suspicions of “structuring” to evade reporting requirements. Make any large deposits overtly.
  • Don’t keep evidence of crimes, such as drugs or paraphernalia, in your home, car, or business if you want to protect your property.
  • Politically support state legislation that reins in civil forfeiture abuse. Several states now require a criminal conviction before assets can be forfeited.
  • Consider forming an LLC or corporation to hold valuable assets like real estate. This may help shield assets from seizure.
  • Consult an attorney experienced in forfeiture defense for personalized advice on protecting your property. Small investments in prevention can avoid much greater losses later.

Contact a Florida Asset Forfeiture Attorney Today

If you are facing asset forfeiture related to a drug investigation in Florida, it is critical to act quickly and consult an experienced attorney. One of our qualified asset forfeiture lawyers can protect your property rights, contest unlawful seizures, and give you the strongest defense against forfeiture under state and federal law.

An attorney can advise you on the nuances of Florida law and build the most strategic case for recovering your property. Given the substantial rights at stake, legal representation is strongly recommended for any one facing asset forfeiture. Don’t let law enforcement strip you of cars, cash, homes or other valuables without putting up the strongest fight possible under the law. Consult a legal professional now.

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