We look to our local and state police force to protect our things from burglars and vandals but what about when our assets are being seized by the police themselves? State and federal laws not only condone seizing of assets by our local law enforcement agency, they encourage it.
Criminal Asset Forfeiture
When a crime has been committed, any belongings of the criminal that were used or obtained in the crime such as; cash, vehicle, phone, and home can be rightfully confiscated. Not only do these appropriated items help investigators learn details about their cases, they also help their budget. These assets that were seized by police because of an actual crime committed by the owner are known as criminal asset forfeitures. These assets go into the police department’s funding to pay for whatever that department needs.
Civil Asset Forfeiture
Unfortunately, law enforcement officials have become greedy, commandeering what they please even if no laws have been broken. Assets can be seized on nothing more than a hunch that the items have a connection with a crime. According to a study done by the Cato Institute, 80 percent of individuals that have had their assets seized never end up being charged with crimes. This cruel and unjust act is known as civil asset forfeiture. When assets are seized by police without proof of any crime by the owner of the property, the charge is placed against the asset itself, not the owner of the asset. This makes it a civil case versus a criminal case. The rules for each are very different, and civil cases against objects are easier for police to come out ahead with at least a percentage of the asset to fill their pocketbook.
Guilty until proven innocent
During civil asset forfeiture, the owners of the assets are free to go if they have no charges against them. However, if the owner would like their assets returned, all they have to do is challenge the seizure and prove the item’s innocence. (No your Honor, my car couldn’t have been making a drug deal, it was taking my kids to soccer practice. I have witnesses proving its location during that time.) Sounds easy, but regaining possession of assets are difficult for some to accomplish. Civil asset forfeiture cases tend to target minorities, those that aren’t fluent in English, or those in lower income brackets. These individuals can be at a disadvantage in civil asset forfeiture cases because they may lack understanding of their rights and may be unable to communicate with law enforcement effectively. They also may not be able to afford taking off work to pursue regaining possession of their assets, so they simple give up.
Civil asset forfeiture was originally beneficial for shipping issues as taking possession of a ship was easier than tracking down the owner from another country in case of any problems. It also came in handy during the 1980’s war on drugs. It functioned as a deterrent for drug cartel by taking anything they might have acquired because of their illegal operations. A special bonus of this was that those assets seized by police were divided between different law agencies. This bonus is what has kept civil asset forfeiture so popular among our police force. Of course, there has to be some guidelines. As stated above, the owners of the assets are allowed to prove the belonging’s innocence. Also, the value of the asset shouldn’t be too expensive. Seizing a house is a lot harder than a $500 used car or pocket cash.
Know your rights, don’t be a victim
Most victims of civil asset forfeiture never challenge the seizure. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as asking for your stuff back. Not knowing your rights or how to properly defend yourself can cause you to lose your assets permanently. If you or your assets have been charged with a crime, contact a criminal defense attorney to defend you and make sure that your belongings don’t become the property of the police department.