Imagine this scenario: Police assume you are involved in some brand of criminal activity, so law enforcement officials seize all assets that they believe were obtained illegally. However, you are never convicted or even accused of committing a crime. In fact, you are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. You presume that you will have your property returned to you, but in fact, law enforcement officials are under no obligation to do so in most cases.
The controversial practice is known as civil asset forfeiture, and it is happening in every state in the union.
Is it legal?
While this practice may seem like a gray area, it is actually completely legal. Any item, whether it is a car, jewelry, cash or even your home, can be confiscated if it is assumed to be connected with a crime. Police argue that property is being used in furtherance of a crime, so they bring up charges against the property, not the person. This is why many cases like this are entitled U.S. vs Silver Mercedes or U.S. vs $10,500.
Even if a person is not guilty of committing the crime that resulted in the confiscation of their property, cases are often too expensive to contest. As a result, police departments frequently win these cases by default, with those who are unable to afford an attorney being disproportionately affected.
What happens to seized property
Assets that have been seized go to auction, and the proceeds feed directly into police budgets. Every year, proceeds from personal belongings obtained in this manner bring cities millions of dollars in revenue. While some cities prevent police departments from keeping the income, instead demanding that the money be donated to fund preventative programs (e.g. domestic violence prevention or Mothers Against Drunk Driving), many jurisdictions are under no such restrictions.
What to do if your property has been seized
Anytime you find yourself in legal trouble, the first thing you should do is contact a lawyer. If your property has been seized for a crime you didn’t commit, chances are you will win a case to reclaim it. Even if you think it wouldn’t be in your best financial interest, many attorneys can work with you to ensure you get justice at a fair price.