A situation where the government has the right to seize your property and sell it to the highest bidder without convicting you is a big threat to your property rights. Civil forfeiture extends to one’s home, car, and cash and when the law enforcement personnel sell your property, in most cases, they get to keep the proceeds. The following article seeks to provide a basic knowledge on civil forfeiture.
Origin of Civil Forfeiture
Civil forfeiture refers to a legal mechanism that gives law enforcement officials the permission to seize any property that has been linked with criminal activity. The property owner does not have to be guilty. The concept of civil forfeiture is to charge the property of being involved in crime, rather than charge the property owner. Therefore, police have the right to seize your home, car, money or any valuables without charging you. The legal fiction of civil forfeiture originated from the medieval times where objects were superstitiously presumed to be capable of causing death. This was used as an excuse to boost custom duties by collecting and selling people’s property.
What Civil Forfeiture Means in a Court of Law
In a court of law, a civil forfeiture case features the plaintiff versus the defendant where the plaintiff is the United States, and the defendant is the piece of property in question. According to Eschbacher Law, at this point, the property owner becomes the third party claimant. Civil forfeiture hearings are less interested in reasonable doubt, and are more concerned with the burden of proof. If the government proves your property should be seized, you should prove otherwise by preponderance of evidence. This means you should provide enough evidence to show there is a high chance your claim is true.
Defense for Civil Forfeiture
Your innocence, in most cases, is not a defense. You can argue that no crime took place, or that the government did not have enough probable cause or that your property is not sufficiently linked to the crime to warrant a seizure. If any of these defenses succeed, the government is supposed to return your property and is not liable for any damages.
As much as civil forfeiture is meant to curb criminal activity, it still leaves a lot to be desired. Law enforcement agencies can use this as a means of policing for profit. This means innocent property owners can have their property seized without just cause. However, the due process in court is one measure that seeks to reduce the unfair incidences of civil forfeiture. If you are a victim of civil forfeiture, you should hire an attorney to ensure justice is served.