Congress May Attempt to Reform Civil Forfeiture Laws

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Illinois defense attorney, Illinois criminal lawyer, property seizureA frequently overlooked consequence of federal criminal charges is civil forfeiture. In fact, a person does not even need to be charged with federal crimes in order to find his or her property subject to seizure by state or federal law enforcement agencies. Civil forfeiture laws are, in theory, designed to prevent a criminal from profiting from his or her criminal acts. For example, a drug dealer who uses a particular vehicle to transport drugs into and out of Illinois should not be able to keep the car or any of the money connected with that illegal activity.

However, since such laws were first reformed in the mid-1980s, there have been numerous stories of abuses of these forfeiture laws by law enforcement officials. Mothers have had their homes taken away under forfeiture laws because their children were found in possession of drugs; a nursery owner had $9,600 in cash seized by law enforcement because he took a “suspicious” trip to Houston to buy plants even though the man never faced any drug dealing charges.

The 1984 reforms introduced a practice known as “equitable sharing,” in which local law enforcement agencies would share in the profits of confiscated assets with federal agencies. Critics of civil forfeiture laws argue that this practice increases the incentives for local law enforcement to seize and retain property under these laws, even if the owner is not ever charged with any crimes.

Federal lawmakers are reviewing ways to curb the abuse of civil forfeiture laws. One means of doing so involves limiting – or eliminating entirely – the practice of equitable sharing.

How Can Civil Forfeiture Laws Impact Me?

Some law enforcement agencies are particularly aggressive in pursuing civil seizure of property. As other past examples illustrate, the owner of a car, a house, a yacht, or cash may find that such property is taken away based on the suspicions of law enforcement offices. This can occur even if the owner of the property owner does not face any sort of criminal charges.

For the property owner of seized property, this can result in serious financial hardships. In order to avoid a permanent forfeiture of one’s property, the property owner must generally show that he or she was not involved in a crime and that the owner either had no knowledge that the specific property being seized was involved in a crime and/or the owner took reasonable steps to prevent the property from being so used. Sometimes, law enforcement agencies pressure property owners to acquiesce to seizures and forfeitures by threatening criminal charges.

Can My Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Help?

If you are charged with a federal crime, chances are law enforcement agencies have seized property under civil forfeiture laws. It is important that you let an experienced Chicago federal criminal defense lawyer know of this, as you only have a limited amount of time to challenge the forfeiture. If you find yourself in this perilous position, contact the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney at 312-629-0669 to discuss your situation.

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