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Civil Forfeitures on the Rise

Posted on in Criminal Defense
civil forfeitureMany people assume that financial penalties for crimes, like fines, cannot take effect until after a person has been convicted of a crime, but that is not necessarily the case. This is because of a new technique police departments are using known as civil forfeiture, which allows police to seize assets, such as cash, that they believe were used for a criminal purpose. Civil forfeiture is not technically a punishment for a crime, and police may seize assets under it without even having to press criminal charges.

This seizure process was developed in the 1980s as a method of combating drug cartels by depriving them of funds and assets, without having to go through a formal criminal process. However, following 9/11 and the increased police authority that came with it, civil forfeitures have been on the rise. In fact, according to a Washington Post report relayed by the Chicago Tribune, police have seized over $2.5 billion in cash since September 11th , 2001, often during traffic stops. With civil forfeitures becoming a more common issue, it is important for people to understand how to protect themselves and how to challenge a forfeiture should one occur.

Preventing Civil Forfeiture

Police report that one of the major triggers for a civil forfeiture is a person's carrying more cash than seems reasonable for a law-abiding citizen. Police are trained to look for indicators of criminal activity during traffic stops, such as nervousness, the use of car air fresheners, trash in the car, or the use of radar detectors. These can trigger a police request to search the vehicle, or the police may attempt to find probable cause to search the vehicle without consent. If such a search turns up an amount of money that the police officer considers unreasonably large, and consequently an indicator of illicit activity, they may seize the funds.

Challenging a Forfeiture

People who have had their assets wrongly seized by civil forfeiture do have an option to recover it. They can bring an action challenging the seizure. These actions often involve either attempting to prove that the cash was not being used for an illicit purpose or attempting to show that the person was an "innocent owner," someone who had no knowledge of the criminal use of the assets. Unfortunately, this formal process is not the best option for everyone. At their longest, these hearings can last over a year, which may make informal negotiations with the state a swifter and easier option.

If you have recently lost assets to civil forfeiture or have had criminal charges leveled against you, seek help from a dedicated Kane County criminal defense attorney. Our firm stands ready to ensure that you and your rights are fully represented in a court of law.
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