If your property, like your home or your vehicle, was used during the commission of a crime, law enforcement can seize the property and attempt to permanently take it from you by filing a forfeiture action. This is usually a civil action that is separate from the prosecution of any criminal charges that may have also been filed. Sometimes the government will attempt to seize an forfeit property even when there is insufficient evidence to file criminal charges. This is possible because the government’s burden of proof in a civil forfeiture case is much lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt burden in a criminal case.
The government can also seize and bring a forfeiture action against any property it thinks is the proceeds of criminal activity. This property can be money, in the form of physical currency or money in a bank account, or it can be items that the government believes was purchased with the proceeds of criminal activity.
Forfeiture Claim Time Limits
In order to challenge the government’s forfeiture of your property, you must file a claim in writing within strict time limits. It is important to remember that any statement you make to law enforcement or put in your written claim could potentially be used against you in a criminal prosecution. This is one reason why it is important to consult a lawyer about your forfeiture case.
Innocent Owner: If the owner of the property being forfeited was not a part of the illegal activity and was unaware that the illegal activity was occurring, then the owner can assert this defense.
Lien Holder: A person or an entity that has a lien on the property being forfeited, in most cases a bank, can assert this defense against the forfeiture of their interest in the property.
Illegal Search: The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides protection against illegal searches and seizures. If the police conducted an illegal search to obtain the property, or if the property was otherwise illegally seized, this may be used as a defense to forfeiture.
It is important to consult with an attorney immediately regarding any forfeiture matter because strict time limits apply. It is also generally unwise to deal with law enforcement directly, since any statement you make can be used against you in a criminal proceeding. Even if don’t have a complete defense to a forfeiture, an attorney may be able to negotiate a settlement with the government. We have experience handling forfeiture matters on both the state and federal level. For a free consultation, call us at 520.314.4125 or contact us online.
Criminal Law Resources
Consult the following links for more information about Arizona Criminal law, as well as local court information: