If you’re accused of criminal activity, there could be more consequences than a conviction. You might lose some of your property if it’s seized by law enforcement. You could be the target of an investigation or just suspected of wrongdoing. Losing your property may not seem fair, but it’s legal in California.

Criminal defense lawyer Seth Morris can help you protect your property and clear your name. Call our office or use our contact form to get started.

What is Asset Forfeiture in California?

Although it might seem wrong, the government has the right to take away property if it believes the action is justified. The government can take your property if it suspects you’re using the property to commit crimes or if it was gained through criminal activity.

Asset forfeiture cases can become complicated because although law enforcement might suspect you of criminal activity, forfeiture is usually achieved through a civil proceeding against the property, not the owner. Your property can be seized before you are convicted, but forfeiture typically happens after you’re convicted of a crime.

What Types of Assets are Commonly Seized?

A variety of property can be seized by the government, and it typically falls into four general “theories.” Federal, state, or local laws can dictate what is considered property that can be forfeited.

  • Contraband: Property that is illicit or illegal in nature and is generally directly related to criminal activity.
  • Exchanges: Property that can be traded for contraband.
  • Proceeds: Property that comes into your possession that you’ve earned by exchanging contraband.
  • Facilitation: Property that can be used to further a criminal activity.

Examples of Commonly Forfeited Property

Law enforcement can collect items or assets they believe are tied to criminal activity. It could be the items used to commit crimes, illegal items, or anything gained through crime.

Examples include:

  • Weapons: Illegal weapons or items used in assault cases could be seized by law enforcement.
  • Electronic or communication equipment: Items with records of crimes or used to commit fraud could be seized.
  • Raw materials: Materials that could be used to make contraband or illicit items will likely be seized, like the paper needed to produce counterfeit currency.
  • Vehicles: Whether they were used to transport illicit goods or bought with funds gained by illegal activity, any planes, boats, or cars can be seized.
  • Animals: Some animals may be seized in connection to criminal activity, like illegal animals or abused animals.
  • Illegal drugs: law enforcement has the right to seize any drugs and the land or property where the drugs were grown or manufactured.

What Happens to Seized Assets in California?

Unfortunately, there is a deadline to act if your property has been seized by the government. If you don’t act quickly enough, you could lose your right to object to the seizure, subsequently losing your property.

If the government is permitted to keep your seized assets, the government will likely auction it off and keep the proceeds.

Each case is unique. Because property forfeiture is a civil process, the prosecution merely needs to show a “preponderance” of evidence to argue their case. That means they simply must show it’s more likely than it isn’t that the seized property is connected to illegal activity. Their reasoning for taking your car could be connected to accusations that you bought it using embezzled funds.

An Oakland criminal defense attorney can help you sort out which property was actually eligible to be seized and fight to get your property returned to you.

What Crimes Often Involve Asset Forfeiture?

Although any crime could technically have property associated with its conduct, some of the most common ways to get your property seized involve organized and drug crimes.

Organized Crime

If police can prove there was a pattern of criminal behavior committed for financial gain, you may face an organized crime conviction. Law enforcement may have the right to seize assets if they can show you profited from two or more connected crimes.

Some examples of organized crime include extortion, receiving stolen property, or money laundering.

Drug Crimes

Most street drugs are not legal for Californians to consume or distribute, although medical and recreational marijuana is legal. However, if the police believe there’s a connection between your property and criminal activity, they may seize it.

Crimes that could result in seized property include the sale of illegal substances, manufacture of illegal substances, or possession with intent to distribute.

How Are Assets Seized?

In a forfeiture case, the government must follow procedures to ensure they don’t step past the bounds set by law. Otherwise, they may be accused of abusing their power.

When law enforcement agents begin forfeiture proceedings, they’ll take control of the property. Depending on the asset, they may take physical control, or they may alert the necessary authorities to prevent that property’s liquidation or transfer. Agents may alert banks about certain accounts they suspect are connected to criminal activity or they may put notices out against real estate.

Next, law enforcement will need to notify anyone with an interest or connection to the property that it’s been seized and that it may be forfeited. The owners will have 30 days to file a claim opposing forfeiture and requesting a hearing.

At the hearing, the prosecution will make its arguments about the property, attempting to demonstrate how it either abets criminal activity or arrived in your possession through crime. That’s when you can defend yourself and fight to get your illegally seized property back.

How an Oakland Criminal Lawyer Can Reclaim Seized Property

Although 30 days might feel like plenty of time to file a claim against seized property, you must act quickly. The government can only pursue forfeiture actions after you’re convicted of a criminal activity. If your property gets seized, that means you’re probably defending yourself against a criminal charge. You don’t want to lose your assets because you were too busy.

An Oakland forfeiture defense lawyer can help you investigate the government’s claim and file the proper paperwork to defend your rights.

Defending Against Seizures

Some agents could be sloppy when they’re gathering evidence in a criminal investigation. The property they seize may be unconnected to a criminal investigation. You might not even be a suspect in a case: your property was just close by.

You may be able to argue that because you didn’t engage in criminal activity, your property should not have been seized to begin with. Your attorney can show the property was illegally seized and should not be forfeited.