In recent years, there has been explosive growth in the law enforcement tactic known as civil asset forfeiture. This practice has become more and more controversial, as law enforcement is generally empowered to seize someone’s cash or property just on a suspicion that it was acquired illegally. No formal charge or arrest is needed for the police to hold onto your assets.
In the last 14 years, there have been $29 billion worth of assets seized by law enforcement across the US, and $4.5 billion in 2014 alone. Even if you are eventually found innocent of wrongdoing, getting your property back can be very difficult.
If you ever have your cash or property seized by the police, you will want to know more about the practice and what to do to get your property back. Here are some tips and additional information from the ACLU on this practice:
Why Is Civil Asset Forfeiture So Common?
The war on drugs spread the use of civil asset forfeiture. Back in 1984, there were changes to the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act which allowed the police to get financial benefits from any property they seized. So there is now a direct financial incentive for the police to take your property and not give it back. So, from 1986-2014, there was a 4667% increase in civil assets seized across the US.
If I Am Pulled Over With $10,000 I Just Won In a Casino, What Could Happen?
If the police are made aware that that amount of cash is in your car, it could be seized. Legally, the police officer only needs probable cause to suspect that your cash is related to some type of crime. Even if the officer lacks probable cause to arrest you, he still could seize your property. Most officers know that your money can easily become the property of his police department, and it is very tempting for the police to seize large amounts of cash in a traffic stop.
Really, the best thing to do these days is to simply not carry large amounts of cash with you in your vehicle. It is far better to take your casino winnings to a bank and get a certified cashier’s check for the amount of your winnings.
How Can We Reverse This Trend?
Some states are taking aggressive stances on civil asset forfeiture and cash seizure. New Mexico has banned it. In that state, law enforcement only may seize property after there has been a criminal conviction. All forfeiture monies are placed in a general state fund and may not be deposited into police department coffers.
Still, there are areas in NM that are not following the law. Albuquerque city continues to seize cash and property from people who have not been convicted of a crime.
How Can You Be Innocent and Still Be Deprived of Your Property?
Remember that many people who are pulled over by the police and have their property seized cannot afford a good attorney. There also is no constitutional right to an attorney in this type of legal problem. Many of the people that the ACLU has represented in civil asset forfeiture cases have been people of color with few assets.
Even if you can afford good counsel, in most states, the government only has to show a preponderance of the evidence to keep your property. That’s not much more than a flip of a coin.
What Should You Do If Your Assets Are Seized?
You should try to hire a good civil asset forfeiture attorney that is licensed in the state where the assets were taken. Even if you cannot afford a good lawyer, you still can challenge the police’s action. All are entitled to a notice of forfeiture. You should look very closely at the deadline for filing any claims to your cash or property after you have been given notice.
More on Civil Asset Forfeiture
Court precedent has shown that many of our constitutional rights are simply not valid in these cases. Basically, your property does not have the constitutional rights that you have. The cash or property does not have right to counsel, and most states do not have presumption of innocence regarding property seizure. In many cases, you will spend more than the value of the property in attorney fees. In Washington DC, you could pay over $2000 just to challenge a seizure by the police department. And it can take many years to get a resolution.
Another problem that some people have is having cash seized at an airport or at the US border. US Customs and Border Patrol is now operated under the Department of Homeland Security. Their main purpose is to prevent terrorists, weapons and cash used to fund terrorism into the US.
It is important to remember to declare any cash you are carrying into customs that is over $10,000. If you do not, your cash can be seized, and you can be fined.