If the police or sheriff seized your property following a criminal indictment or investigation, you may at risk of the government's right to "forfeiture." State law forfeiture rights are broad and can capture property ranging from cash, accounts, vehicles used to transport contraband, homes purchased with proceeds of criminal profits, and other expensive assets. The summary below is provided to give you a general understanding of this complicated and confusing body of law; however, you should contact a Sugar Land criminal attorney for clarification and guidance as to your exposure to government forfeiture.
Forfeiture laws vary from state-to-state, depending on the codified statutes and case law existing in each jurisdiction. A Sugar Land criminal attorney can inform you as to specific theories available in your states, but generally, the following doctrines apply:
Forfeiture proceedings may be brought under civil or criminal law. Civil forfeiture actions can be brought, regardless of whether criminal charges have been filed. Criminal forfeiture claims are filed and adjudicated simultaneous with criminal charges.
Civil forfeiture actions are brought against property itself as defendant, and so may result in the divestiture of title to even an innocent owner.
Divestiture of title to forfeitable property is deemed to transfer immediately upon commission of a crime. So even if an innocent owner obtained title prior to occurrence or discovery of such criminal act, such title will be divested upon forfeiture.
Three Theories of Forfeiture
In most states, forfeiture claims may be brought under three theories:
- Contraband Theory permits a party to bring a forfeiture action against assets that constitute contraband. Under this theory, possessing property by itself constitutes a violation of the law; such property cannot be returned or claimed under any circumstances.
- Proceeds Theory holds that assets that constitute proceeds of criminal activities are forfeitable. In such proceedings, the central focus of the litigation will be on proving a crime occurred, the timing of transfer of proceeds, and finally, whether the recipient of such transfer can claim a defense under "good faith purchaser for value," "innocent owner," or other statutory defense theories.
- Faciliation Theory provides for seizure of assets used to faciliate or in the commission of a crime. It commonly lends itself to constitutional issues related to forfeiture, often because the property subject to forfeiture is often expensive and substantial, regardless of the gravity of the subject-related crime. For example, in the event of even a minor crime such as prostitution or personal drug abuse, prosecutors may attempt to seize homes, cars, boats, bank holdings, or large amounts of cash. In such instances, defendants claims such penalties are unreasonable and excessive, in violation of the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment.
John Venza, an experienced Sugar Land criminal attorney, is available to help you if your property has been or is at risk of being seized pursuant to a forfeiture action. Call him today at 281-971-5660 for a free consultation.