Law enforcement agencies can seize your property if they believe it was used in committing a crime — even if you or the property had nothing to do with the alleged crime. This means police can seize, and have seized, everything from bank accounts, cash, and jewelry to vehicles, homes, and business assets. These practices of civil, criminal, and administrative forfeiture are generally legal, and law enforcement often doesn’t need to show much evidence of any crime in order to take your property.
The seizure of assets can upend families and erode communities. It can make the targeted people feel hopeless and like they have no rights, adding to an already stacked deck. Nevertheless, it’s not hopeless. Attorney Ben Crump and his team have experience helping people navigate this complex, somewhat unknown area of law. This is one of the many ways Mr. Crump pursues justice on behalf of those who our society marginalizes.
If your assets were seized by law enforcement, contact Mr. Crump today for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
Read on to learn more about what civil forfeiture is and the ways attorneys can help. The more you know, the more empowered you will be.
What Is Civil Forfeiture and Asset Seizure?
Civil forfeiture laws give local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies the right to seize property they believe was involved in or represents profits from a crime. These agencies can seize your assets without much evidence and despite your innocence.
It wasn’t always such a widespread practice, though. Until the 1980s, civil forfeiture was a limited practice that the government used for very specific purposes. However, during the ‘80s Congress changed forfeiture laws, thereby allowing agencies and governmental bodies to keep the seized funds. Civil forfeiture has since become only more popular.
In the past decade, particularly, the civil forfeiture crisis has hit worrisome levels. The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Treasury Department seized about $29 billion worth of assets in the past 10 years, according to a March 2017 report by the Office of the Inspector General. Law enforcement have even used “wish lists” when deciding which assets to seize, according to a New York Times report.
Asset Seizures Could Leave People Homeless and Penniless
Although the civil forfeiture process has been used to take down criminal operations of various sizes, it has also perpetrated injustice on people who committed no crime at all. This is because civil forfeiture law allows for an asset to be forfeited as long as law enforcement can prove that the property was “more likely than not” involved in a crime. This affects even so-called “innocent owners” — property owners whose asset someone else might have used when committing a crime.
Consider this example: You loan your car to someone. That person commits a crime, or is suspected of committing a crime, and your car is connected to the crime. Through a civil, not criminal process, the government could seize your car — even though you didn’t do anything.
A particularly stunning example comes from Philadelphia. Law enforcement took the home of parents of a 22-year-old man arrested for selling $40 worth of heroin. They believed the son used the house to store and sell drugs, so they were allowed under civil forfeiture law to seize an entire house. His parents were left without a home.
Small business owners can be victims, too. An egregious example of this happened in Berkeley, California in September 2017. A University of California, Berkeley police officer took $60 from a hot dog vendor’s wallet after ticketing him for lacking a permit. The university issued a statement saying it was “routine to seize money as evidence of an illegal transaction,” according to the New York Times.
Other examples of asset seizure include:
- Traffic stops in which police find a large amount of cash on you, or in your vehicle, that they think an “innocent” person would normally leave in a bank.
- Police seize or freeze your personal or business bank accounts, because they believe the accounts contain proceeds of a crime or were used to launder money.
- Law enforcement seize FedEx, UPS, or U.S. Postal Service packages, claiming they contain cash proceeds of a crime.
Those are just a few examples of injustices that could happen or have happened in the country. Civil forfeitures laws vary by state, but generally they leave people vulnerable to law enforcement theft.
How Can Ben Crump Help You Recover Your Property?
Even if civil forfeiture laws seem to make law enforcement unstoppable when seizing assets, that doesn’t mean getting some or all of your property back is hopeless.
If your assets were seized by law enforcement, you don’t have to try to recover them alone. Mr. Crump can advocate for you in negotiations and in court, working on a contingency-fee basis to get your property back. Contact Mr. Crump today for a free, no-risk case evaluation.