What is Asset Forfeiture?
In a civil asset forfeiture proceeding, actions are not against a defendant, but rather against the asset or property itself. Civil forfeiture can occur without a person ever being charged or convicted of a crime. In Michigan, the police can seize private money or property based simply on suspicion of involvement in illegal activity.
What makes this even more egregious is that the very law enforcement agency who seized the property may keep a percentage of its value to support its own drug enforcement and prevention programs. This gives officers the incentive to pursue forfeiture more vigorously.
Since 2001, Michigan agencies have seized at least $250 million in assets from citizens. The entire proceeding rests on the notion that your property can be guilty of a crime. In fact, when the government initiates a civil forfeiture case you will see funny case names such as, United States of America v. One 1985 Mercedes-Benz, 300. Remember, the action is against your property – not you.
Contesting the civil forfeiture of your property
Once your property has been seized the government will provide you with notice either directly to you or through some form of publication. It is imperative that you act quickly if you want to get your property back because once you receive notice that your property has been seized you only have a certain amount of time to contest the forfeiture.
The first thing you must do is file a claim. The claim format is very specific and you must specifically identify the property you are claiming, identify yourself and your interest in the property and you must sign your claim under penalty of perjury.
You must also act quickly. Once you receive notice that your property was seized you only have a limited amount of time to contest the forfeiture. The date in which you have to answer will be in bold letters in your notice. It is important that you look for this date immediately. Where you file your claim is also important. It must be mailed to the following address:
Forfeiture Counsel, Asset Forfeiture Section,
Drug Enforcement Administration
HQs Forfeiture Response
8701 Morrissette Drive
Springfield, Virginia 22152
Mail sent to the DEA forfeiture response unit will not be considered filed on weekends or federal holidays. So keep this in mind when mailing out your claim. If you happen to miss your filing deadline a default judgment will be entered against you and unfortunately it is extremely difficult and highly unlikely to get it set aside.
Upon receipt of the claim, the government must file a court action within 90 days. If they fail to do so the claimant automatically wins a judgment for return of the property.
Everyone knows that we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, however with civil forfeiture, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent. The burden is on you to prove that your property is innocent of the crime and if you don’t fight it the government will simply win by default. In order for the government to prevail it only need to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that your property had a sufficient relationship to the illegal activity. This is a very low standard. In fact, all the government needs to establish is that it is more likely than not that your property was connected to some type of crime.
No person who hasn’t been convicted of a crime should have property seized. This means that it is absolutely imperative that you consult with an attorney as soon as possible. If your assets are in danger of forfeiture, contact the Law Office of Barton Morris immediately. Our lawyers have served clients well in Federal Courts through the entire state of Michigan including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Bay City, Flint Lansing and Kalamazoo.