Wondering what the term means? Civil forfeiture is a dreaded proposition. It refers to the government's ability to seize a taxpayer's property and sell it without even convicting him with any crime.
When a civil forfeiture case proceeds, it is assumed that not just an individual, but his cash, residential property and vehicles are guilty too. A civil forfeiture case is considered a civil action, which means a property owner hardly receives the kind of protection that criminal defendants enjoy. To make it worse, when the law enforcers proceed with seizing and selling a property, they often use the residential belongings for their personal purpose.
The worrisome fact is civil forfeiture puts the burden of proof on the defendant. The legal clauses that govern civil forfeiture are draconian. Going through the recent civil forfeiture cases alone can give you chills. If you are facing a civil forfeiture case, then you'd have to deal with the following odds.
Onus of proof
If the government wants to keep a person's property through civil forfeiture, then it needs to prove that the person in question has acquired the property by illegal means. In case of criminal forfeiture, the accused needs to be proven guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," but in a civil forfeiture case, he could be booked guilty even by the less rigorous crime standards.
No legal help
You must have gone weary hearing these same old lines on the television "If you don't have an attorney, then we can provide you with one." The US government is bound to provide the defendant with legal help. However, in a civil asset forfeiture case, the defendant needs to hire a lawyer all by himself, and if he couldn't, then he'd have to fight his case alone.
Guilty until proven innocent
The law, in most cases, hold the accused innocent until he's proven innocent. Civil asset forfeiture, however, is completely different. The defendant in a civil forfeiture case is considered guilty until he's proven innocent.
Equitable sharing can be best described as a weapon invented for wrong use. It's a program under the federal law that enables the federal government and the state authorities to distribute the seized property among themselves.
First, the state law enforcement seizes the property of the convict, next it sends the property to federal authorities. The authorities then have the property sold and sent 80% of the money back to the state authorities. In other words, equitable sharing is a legal extortion by law enforcement. Equitable sharing has been slammed as policing for profit by the civil liberties organizations, for good reasons.
A lawyer's help is invaluable in a civil asset forfeiture case. The lawyer only needs to prove the asset seized by the state law enforcement is legitimate and hence, doesn't come directly under the dreaded fiefdom of civil asset forfeiture.
But how the lawyer is going to prove that? One simple way is to check the history of your bank account details and share it with the court. He will try to convince the court the law enforcement has wrongly deemed your residential property illegal. If the court is convinced that the property was earned through due means, then the charges against you would be declined.
It goes without saying that you need to hire a highly efficient lawyer. He should be highly skilled and very experienced. You have a very few safeguard options once convicted as a defendant in a civil forfeiture case. The lawyer needs to understand the cogency of the allegation brought against you and decide whether he could save you from them.
You need to keep yourself updated about the latest happenings in the legal industry. It may not be a lifesaver for you, but it could at least help you gain a better understanding of what's actually happening in the legal arena.
For example, in January this year, some changes in the existing civil asset forfeiture program were announced by the attorney general Eric Holder. The new rules allow seizure of a person's property only if it includes firearms, ammunition, explosives, etc.
This new law could establish your innocence and the legitimacy of your property to the court. Your lawyer must be familiar with all the new additions and alterations, but even then, any new input from you could be useful.