The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) announced that they collected approximately $242,000,000 in criminal, civil, and assets forfeiture. In the figures provided by EDVA, 86% of the $242,000,000 are from civil forfeitures.
Virginia earned a D- for its civil forfeiture laws in a recent national review. Besides a low standard of proof, the burden of proving innocence heavily resides on the property owners in this state. The law enforcement agency is also allowed to retain 100% of the confiscated proceeds; 90% goes to the participating agency, and the remaining 10% is to the Department of Criminal Justice Service. Although the law intends to prevent possible crimes, this “policing for profit” aspect may distort the priorities of the police officers.
The procedure in civil forfeiture cases is daunting to an average Virginian. According to a study conducted by the Virginia State Crime Commission in 2015, less than 1% resulted in a trial. If the legal battle. is more expensive than the property, they might just give up the case. However, some law firms agree that payment of legal fees is contingent on winning the case and do not charge as long as the case is pending.
Here is a breakdown of the amounts:
Criminal Cases: $23.3 million are recovered for the restitution to crime victims.
Civil Cases: $209 million ($41.1 million collected through civil actions and settlements where the federal government is the victim; $167.9 million recouped civilly with other government agencies)
Asset Forfeiture: $10.6 million acquired, $8.3 million of which was deposited to the Justice Department’s assets forfeiture fund.
How Civil Asset Forfeiture Works
In civil forfeiture, law enforcement takes someone’s property based on probable cause that it was used or intended to be used in a crime. In civil forfeiture, the property owner does not have the right to a court-appointed lawyer. This puts the property owner at a significant disadvantage, critics say.
In criminal forfeiture cases, on the other hand, the accused must first be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt before a property is seized. Here, the evidence is so strong that there is no doubt that the accused committed the crime. Also, right to counsel is guaranteed in criminal cases. So, in cases of seized assets, those charged with a crime could be said to have an advantage over their charge-free counterparts.
If the property owner defaults or signs a waiver, the case converts to an administrative forfeiture with no judicial intervention.
According to the report of the Institute of Justice, 87% of asset seizure cases in the Department of Justice are civil forfeiture cases. This may be because, as the DoJ put it, “Civil forfeiture is easier for law enforcement because it does not require a conviction, while criminal forfeiture does. Data obtained by IJ reveal that the Department of Justice took advantage of easier civil procedures in 87 percent of forfeiture cases from 1997 to 2013.”
Do Civil Asset Forfeiture Cases Require a Lawyer?
The procedure in civil forfeitures is quite complex, so people who decide to hire a civil asset forfeiture attorney. may do well to hire one who is an expert in the area. The state is not required to give an innocent property owner a legal representation, so this is a step the property owner must take on their own. In a case like this, once the property has been confiscated, the prosecutor would file a forfeiture case to acquire the property legally.
Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has law enforcement taken your property using civil asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and get assistance from a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.