The Police Took My Money. What Do I Do Now?

If the police seized your money, car, or other property, we can help protect what’s yours from wrongful civil asset forfeiture.

I’ve had several clients call recently because their property had been seized – wrongfully. Civil asset forfeiture became the norm during the 1980s war on drugs. It was intended to confiscate ill-gotten gains from drug kingpins. Over time, these seizures provided a tremendous source of revenue to cities, counties, and states. In 2014, for example, federal forfeitures exceeded $4.5 billion. Incentives to abuse processes are huge.

In fact, a study proved that the problem with civil forfeiture is less a problem with individual officers and more a problem with civil forfeiture laws themselves. Police have outright admitted that civil forfeiture creates a powerful temptation to seize property, with one police chief referring to forfeiture funds as “pennies from heaven”. For more on the need for reform in civil asset forfeiture laws, see Policing for Profit.

In one recent Supreme Court case, Timbs v. Indiana, the defendant’s Land Rover was seized and kept even though it had been purchased using money inherited from life insurance upon his father’s death and had no links to criminal activity of any kind. The court ruled in favor of Timbs based on the eighth amendment’s protection from excessive fines. For more information on this important court ruling, see What the Supreme Court Ruling Could Mean for Civil Asset Forfeiture.

People usually think asset forfeiture happens only to criminals and could never happen to them. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case. In one alarming instance, hundreds of cars at an art institute event were seized by police because the institute had failed to get a liquor license. You may be unable to stop the government from seizing your property even if you’re completely innocent. For more information on how civil asset forfeiture limits rights we take for granted, read Civil Asset Forfeiture: 7 Things You Should Know.

One of my clients was on his way to buy a new car. He had $18,500 in cash with him. He was pulled over for taillight violation. He had no criminal record and was committing no crime. The police saw the money and seized it, claiming the cash must be drug money. As you can see, law enforcement has tremendous power in these cases. They can seize and forfeit property without substantiating their claims.

You do not need to be convicted of a crime to be subjected to civil asset forfeiture. Your property will instead be given criminal charges, allowing law enforcement agencies to freely seize it. And while civil forfeiture cases do give innocent property owners an avenue to reclaim their property, the burden of proof is often placed on the owner, rather than the government. The owner is thus made to prove they were innocent of any criminal activity.

We’ve seen property seizures go wrong too many times. Those wrongfully accused and their innocent family members are sometimes unable to recover their property.

As part of our comprehensive work on criminal cases over the years, we have helped clients recover what is rightfully theirs. The Supreme Court ruling in the Timbs case gives us another legal avenue to fight for our clients.

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