In our previous post, we began speaking about the issue of civil asset forfeiture, which sometimes can come up alongside criminal cases. Civil asset forfeiture proceedings are separate from the criminal process, but because significant assets can be involved, it is important for criminal defendants to be aware of their rights in the forfeiture process.
First and foremost, property owners who have had cash or property seized as a result of a police investigation should know that they have the ability to challenge the validity of the seizure in court. The process for doing so is not exactly the same at the state and federal level. At the federal level, civil forfeiture actions can be initiated either in court, administratively, or in what is known as summary forfeiture, which typically involves contraband.
Administrative forfeitures can be initiated by a seizing agency on most property valued at or below $500,000, although there is no limit for monetary instruments. Administrative forfeiture actions can be contested within a certain amount of time after they are initiated by filing a claim of ownership. Filing such a claim will result in the government ending the administrative forfeiture action and initiating a judicial forfeiture action in federal court.
At the federal level, the burden of proof is upon the government to show that the property in question was somehow involved in criminal activity. According to the FBI, probable cause in a forfeiture action means having a reasonable basis for belief of guilt which is more than a mere suspicion but less than sufficient evidence to support a finding of guilt. What exactly does this mean, though?
In our next post, we’ll continue speaking about the issue of burden of proof and why it is important for property owners to work with an experienced attorney to build a strong case.