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It happens when someone has assets including property or funds that law enforcement believes is connected to a crime. The property or funds can be seized by law enforcement. It can happen even if someone hasn’t been charged or convicted of a crime. Once a person has their assets seized, it can be extremely difficult to get them returned. The victim of an illegitimate civil asset forfeiture will need the help of an experienced criminal attorney to get back their assets and property.
Pennsylvania Civil Asset Seizure
Profits are made from forfeited assets in Pennsylvania. These assets often go right into the budgets of local law enforcement agencies. This makes the civil asset forfeiture laws very problematic. On the surface, civil asset seizures may seem beneficial. Unfortunately, it is an incentive that rewards law enforcement for seizing property and funds even when it is not right for them to have done it. This has developed into an epidemic in Pennsylvania. There is proof that large amounts of money is being obtained from forfeited assets. The Institute for Justice tracks money obtained by law enforcement. According to this organization, police officers in Pennsylvania sized over 10 million dollars in assets during a single year. Things sized by law enforcement include cars, houses as well as significant amounts of money and more.
Strip Criminals Of Resources
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states the original idea behind civil asset forfeitures was a belief it would take away the resources of major criminals. Too many times it has been used to take advantage of people who have not committed any crimes and don’t have a way to fight back. In Pennsylvania, when someone has their assets seized, they are not given constitutional protections that could require a criminal trial. They aren’t given the right to legal counsel. It is common for the cost of paying for legal representation to be more than the cost of the forfeited assets. This is the reason not many people go forward with fighting to get back their property. The United States Department of Justice states that over 89 percent of assets wrongly seized are never returned to the owner of them.
Getting Assets Back
Once an individual has their assets seized in Pennsylvania, they will have 30 days to file a petition to contest the asset seizure. Should someone not do this, their property will be sold at an auction. The proceeds from the auction will then be placed in budget of law enforcement agencies. Should someone want to try and get their assets back, they will need to make their case in court. This is a time when it’s essential to hire an experienced attorney. These legal professionals will know how to present evidence showing a person’s assets weren’t part of any criminal activity. An attorney can help them deal with the complicated legal process that will follow.
Individuals who are victims of asset forfeiture have a devastating experience. It’s important to know that using the right legal defense provides a good chance of reversing the damage. In one year, the ACLU did help a man in Pennsylvania get back the funds that were taken from him during a traffic stop. This man was stopped by law enforcement. He agreed to let the police conduct a vehicle search. During the consensual search, the police discovered more than $30,000 worth of ecstasy and marijuana in the vehicle. Law enforcement seized the man’s cash without having any proof the cash was part of any criminal activity. During the court case, the man’s attorneys were able to prove the funds were not part of any criminal activity. The man’s money was returned to him. Had this individual not pursued legal action, he would have lost a significant amount of money.
Since law enforcement has a financial incentive for asset forfeiture, it will remain a way for people to be victimized. When people have small items seized by law enforcement, it may not be worth the time or money to pursue it. Should someone have lost their car, house or valuable pieces of property, they should file a petition and then get legal representation. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know what is required to make law enforcement return assets they wrongly seized.