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Civil Forfeiture

When someone takes your property, you're expected to call the police. But who are you supposed to turn to when the police are the ones taking your property? Believe it or not, this happens all the time, as part of a practice called asset forfeiture, where police seize property from citizens based only on suspicion of wrongdoing.

Although criminal forfeiture requires the person having their property taken to be convicted of a crime, civil forfeiture does not. Instead, your property will be charged with involvement in a crime, allowing police to legally confiscate it from you. Georgia is widely known for having forfeiture laws that make it especially easy for law enforcement agencies to seize property, with poor protections for innocent property owners and as much as 100% of the proceeds going directly to law enforcement.

Almost any type of property can be seized under civil asset forfeiture laws. These laws allow police to take your bank account, your vehicle, or even your home, as long as they believe it was connected with a crime. Even if you are never convicted of anything, there is no guarantee that your property will be returned to you once law enforcement seizes it. You may have to pursue legal action in order to take back your assets.

The Equitable Sharing Program allows state and local police agencies to collaborate with federal agencies in order to seize property from individuals before transferring the seized property to federal control. This allows local agencies to skirt certain state-level regulations limiting forfeiture. Georgia has an especially high rate of equitable sharing, with police receiving an estimated 17 million each year in forfeiture proceeds.

The intention behind forfeiture laws is good, but the potential for abuse is high. Police have outright admitted that forfeiture laws create a strong temptation to seize property, with the proceeds then used to fund their departments. Innocent people routinely lose their property and money to these forfeiture laws, and without a good criminal defense lawyer, it is unlikely they will get it back.

What to do if the Police Take Your Property

Once law enforcement officials seize your property, you will need to make a claim to it. You will have thirty days from the notice of forfeiture being sent to you to respond. After you respond, you will have to prepare a claim, laying out the facts of the property and why it should not be subjected to Georgia's forfeiture laws. You will then be required to send the claim to the police department that took your property, along with the District Attorney in charge of your case.

Your property will then be subjected to legal action to determine whether it was involved in a crime. Forfeiture proceedings use a standard known as preponderance of the evidence. This means that the burden of proof is on the person who is trying to get their property back. This standard makes it more difficult to get your property back and more likely that said property will be forfeited to the state of Georgia, should you not have good legal counsel on your side.

The recent Supreme Court case Timbs v. Indiana has made it harder for law enforcement to seize and keep your property by ruling that the Eight Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines also applies to state and local governments, thus limiting their ability to seize property. Even then, many people do not know how to get their property back when police take it. The laws surrounding forfeiture cases are complex and difficult to navigate for someone who is not experienced with forfeiture law.

That's why you should contact the Don Turner Legal Team for a free consultation today. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys will listen to the facts surrounding your case and help you protect what’s yours.

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