The government may seize property used in a crimeIn addition to an indictment, a criminal investigation may result in seizure and forfeiture of your property, including everything from bank accounts to the automobiles and boats used to ferry contraband, and the house which you may have purchased with some of the proceeds, or from which you dealt the drugs that landed you in an indictment. In pursuit of its forfeiture claim, the government may also disgorge assets that have been transferred to other individuals. Forfeiture proceedings can be civil or criminal. A criminal forfeiture proceeding accompanies the filing of a criminal case and will be adjudicated along with the case. However, a civil forfeiture proceeding may be filed before, or even in the absence of, any criminal proceeding.
The basic forfeiture lawThe law of forfeiture is delineated by statutes, and thus can vary from state to state. However, there are certain doctrines appear in most statutes:
- The wrongdoer in a civil forfeiture action is the property. Therefore, civil forfeiture actions are against the property, and the property might be forfeitable even though its owner was innocent.
- The property becomes forfeitable and title vests in the government at the time of the crime that gives rise to the forfeiture. Thus, innocent transferees may find themselves divested of the property even if they obtained title before the crime was prosecuted or even discovered.
The three theories of forfeitureThere are three theories under which a prosecutor can seek the forfeiture of assets:
- The assets are contraband.
- The assets are the proceeds of criminal activity.
- The assets were used to commit or facilitate a crime.