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Asset forfeiture: be aware of your rights, protect yourself from abuse

Last month, Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion of Starke was stopped by police after he was seen swerving in his lane. In the course of the police investigation he was not only cited for drug offenses, he also became the target of what is known as asset forfeiture, which is a legal process by which police officers may seize assets they believe to be connected to a crime.

Asset forfeiture comes in two varieties: civil in criminal, the difference between that criminal asset forfeiture is only possible when the property owner is charged with a crime. Civil asset forfeiture is permissible even when the property owner has not been charged with a crime.

In Guion's case, Police seized $200,000 in cash and his brand new pickup, which he later challenged in asset forfeiture proceedings. Under Florida law, the government must be able to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the property was related to criminal activity. The law also holds that property owners are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty for purposes of asset forfeiture. The judge handling Guion's case ultimately determined that police were right in seizing the assets because circumstantial evidence suggesting that Guion was either dealing or purchasing drugs.

Asset forfeiture is an important issue that can sometimes come up in the course of criminal defense cases. The asset forfeiture process is itself separate, and involves a different standard of proof, as we've pointed out. Asset forfeiture has been a growing source of controversy both in Florida and nationwide due to the potential for police to abuse the program.

In our next post, we'll speak a bit more about asset forfeiture and what property owners who have had their assets seized during a police investigation can do to protect their rights.

Source: First Coast News, "Judge rules probable cause for police to seize $200k from NFL player," Lisa Robins, Feb. 23, 2015.

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