Can You Lose Your Property Without Ever Being Charged With A Crime?

It may surprise you to learn this, but you can lose your money, car, and property to the government even if you've never been charged with a crime under something known as civil asset "forfeiture" laws. This is what you should know:

How Are Forfeiture Laws Being Used?

Historically, civil forfeiture laws have been designed to seize assets that could reasonably be the proceeds of illegal activity or somehow be used to further illegal activity. Unfortunately, police often abuse the system in place in order to benefit their own departments, since the laws allow the police departments to keep a majority of the proceeds they seize. Cash assets can be used to pad departmental budgets, and other property can be liquidated through auctions.

When Can Property Be Seized?

Depending on whether state or federal laws are involved, almost anything even tangentially connected with certain types of crimes, such as treason or terrorism, can be subject to forfeiture laws. However, your property is typically targeted if it is suspected of being involved with drug crimes. Because your property is actually the target of the forfeiture action, the law doesn't require an individual to actually be charged with a crime in order for the property to be seized. This means that any of the following situations can happen:

  • Your home can be taken if your grandson sold his best friend $10 worth of marijuana while living with you.
  • Your cash can be taken because you are traveling with a large amount and the officer who pulls you over for a traffic stop decides you may be planning a drug buy, not going on vacation.
  • Your car could be seized because your brother borrows it and makes a drug buy while he's using it.

In some cases, such as those where travelers are being routinely pulled over and offered a choice between jail and loss of personal property, no one is ever charged with a crime. In other cases, the person charged with a crime—a renter or other relative in a home, for example—isn't the person whose property is taken.

What Can You Do To Prevent Your Property From Being Seized?

Although not every potential situation can be anticipated, since the majority of forfeiture abuses are taking place while people are traveling (putting them in an unfamiliar environment where they have fewer resources, including connections with legal representation), attorneys recommend that travelers:

  • not carry large sums of money with them
  • not consent to a police search of their vehicles without a warrant
  • avoid wearing expensive jewelry or clothing (indicating you might have money on hand)
  • stick to major highways and avoid smaller jurisdictions

In some cases, you may be able to file a lawsuit to get your property back. In other cases, you may be able to avoid forfeiture by proving that you were uninvolved and unaware of the crime taking place that somehow involved your home, car, or boat. Or, you may be able to regain your cash by proving that it was legally obtained, and not the product of a drug deal or some other criminal activity. No matter what the circumstances, consult with an attorney like Law Offices Of Timothy J Ormes quickly in order to mount a defense and try to regain your property.