Civil Forfeiture Abuse: Can You Get Your Belongings Back?
What Is Civil Forfeiture?
Civil forfeiture is a legal process that gives the government the right to seize property if the item in question is suspected of being involved in criminal activity.
These items can be seized without a warrant and can be retained even though no conviction is reached.
Items that are seized by the government are often retained even if it’s found that they had not been used in any criminal activity. The government may retain the property unless challenged by the rightful owner in court with help from a DUI attorney.
Problems With Civil Forfeiture
A huge problem with civil forfeiture laws in Washington State is that your items are considered guilty until proven innocent. This is the same as the American ideal of being innocent until proven guilty. Civil forfeiture, the seizing of a person’s private property without a conviction or warrant, is an obvious violation of a fundamental principle within American justice.
To make matters even dicier, the very people out there seizing property are the ones directly benefiting from the seizure. Police are the ones who determine what items to seize, and it’s police prosecutors that decide whether or not you get your stuff back. If they decide to keep your items, it’s the police department that gets to keep a majority of the profits.
This conflict of interest puts a big thumb on one side of the scale of justice, giving police departments a massive incentive to both seize items and refuse to give items back.
This incentive opens the opportunity for civil forfeiture abuse. Because instead of pursuing justice as law enforcement officers should, they have a massive incentive to take property because they will profit from it.
What Property Can Be Subject To Forfeiture?
According to the Washington State Legislature website, items that are subject to seizure or forfeiture (dismissing all property rights of the former owner) include all personal property, including but not limited to:
- Any item which has been or was intended/suspected of being used to commit a felony.
When Can Items Be Seized?
RCW 10.105.010, section 2, states that any personal property that is subject to forfeiture may be seized by:
“any law enforcement officer of this state upon process issued by any superior court having jurisdiction over the property.”
Seizure of personal property without process may be made if:
- The seizure is incident to an arrest or a search under a search warrant;
- The property subject to seizure has been the subject of a prior judgment in favor of the state in a criminal injunction or forfeiture proceeding;
- A law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that the property is directly dangerous to health or safety; or
- The law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that the property was used or is intended to be used in the commission of a felony.”
Is Civil Asset Forfeiture An Abuse Of Power?
So what happens to assets once they’ve been seized by the government?
The answer is both surprising and worrying.
The very same law enforcement officers who are seizing assets are the ones directly benefiting from the seizure.
State officials get to keep up to 90% of the profit from civil forfeiture assets which are a staggeringly high financial incentive for officers whose first priority is supposed to be upholding justice.
Many people believe that with such a high monetary incentive law enforcement officers cannot be trusted to be entirely objective and just.
For this reason, along with the onset of several cases of unjust forfeiture, civil asset seizure has come under a lot of scrutiny as it is thought to incentivize the unjust seizing of private property for monetary gain by law enforcement.
Furthermore, reports of what is done with the ten or twenty percent of what is leftover following law enforcement taking their lot are hard to come by. These reports are not published online and require interested parties to do a fair amount of searching to find out what’s happened to it.
Can You Get Belongings Back If They Have Been Seized?
While it is possible to get your property back if it has been seized by the government, the process is by no means easy.
In the case of criminal forfeiture, the burden is entirely on the owner of the property to get it back once it’s been seized. You are responsible for getting back your assets even if they were wrongly seized.
It is your job to prove to the court that you are innocent and that your property wasn’t involved in the case at hand.
Getting your property back after it’s been seized by the government is a lengthy process and typically requires the help of a civil asset forfeiture abuse attorney.
Hire A Civil Forfeiture Abuse Attorney
Protect yourself and your property against civil forfeiture abuse. Civil forfeiture and the seizing of a citizen’s private property can be done by law enforcement officers under the guise of “criminal forfeiture.”
Having your property unjustly seized by the government necessitates those who want to see their property again to get an attorney and walk through a lengthy legal process that criminalizes them even if they are never tried or found guilty of doing anything wrong.
Matthew Leyba, of Leyba Defense, is a seasoned criminal defense and DUI attorney in the Seattle area. His passion is justice and helping those facing criminal charges find justice in the legal system. Matthew Leyba is well-versed in the civil forfeiture laws of Washington State and wants to fight corruption and civil forfeiture abuse.
If you recently had your property unjustly seized by the government and are wondering how to get it back, Matthew Leyba can help you.
Contact expert civil forfeiture abuse attorney Matthew Leyba to set up your first consultation and start the process of getting your unjustly-seized items returned.