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Asset Forfeiture in Drug Crime Cases
Asset forfeiture occurs when the government takes and seizes ownership of property because they believe it was acquired through illegal conduct, or was used to commit a crime. Federal and state law dictate the conditions that provide for law enforcement to seize assets. They also set specific procedures that must be followed before a seizure occurs. In California, recent law has changed regarding asset forfeiture in drug crime cases, restricting overzealous law enforcement from seizing assets unless certain circumstances are met. Riverside drug crime lawyer Gregory H. Comings works to ensure clients preserve their assets and their reputation. He is knowledgeable concerning procedural requirements and the abuses of forfeiture that occur. Riverside residents receive a tailored strategy to protect their freedom and their property from law enforcement interference.
California drug laws form the basis for the majority of forfeitures. Typically, drug forfeiture cases require the government to convict someone of an offense before forfeiture of their assets. In most cases, the conviction is for an “underlying or related criminal action.” Property that is tied to the crime may be seized, including items such as airplanes, boats, or securities and money.
For all drug forfeiture cases, there is a distinction between government seizure of property, and government forfeiture of property. Upon arrest, law enforcement has the right to seize or take assets immediately. When the government seizes property, the defendant need not be convicted of a crime. Ownership of the property will pass to the government after a conviction.
A conviction requirement for forfeiture has exceptions. First, as set forth in the California Health & Safety Code, 11488.4k, drug-related property can be forfeited without a conviction if the defendant fails to appear for their case. The condition before forfeiture is that the government makes a “prima facie” case that the property is subject to asset forfeiture. In other words, the government must set forth evidence the property is related to a crime.
Another exception is for cash or securities valued at more than $40,000. These may be forfeited even if there is not a drug crime conviction. In order for the cash or securities to be forfeited, the government must prove the money originated or was intended for use in illegal drug transactions. When proving these factors, the burden of proof is “clear and convincing evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In drug cases, before asset forfeiture, the government must follow specific procedures, such as summary or judicial procedures. Additionally, law enforcement must only seize property that they have the requisite cause to seize. They are not entitled to seize nearby property, or other assets. In some cases, a strong defense may be presented during a forfeiture hearing.
Summary forfeiture occurs when the government can forfeit Schedule 1 drugs, without procedure such as a hearing. Marijuana, peyote, ecstasy, and heroin are drugs that may be subject to summary procedure. Marijuana may be returned if the person had the legal right to possession under California medical marijuana laws.
Administrative forfeiture refers to the taking or personal property, not real estate, valued below $25,000. The police are required to give public notice before forfeiting property. The person has a set period of time to challenge the property’s seizure. Judicial procedure may be used when the party challenges the seizure of property valued below $25,000 or the police seized property valued above $25,000. In these cases, a civil trial must be held before law enforcement forfeit the property.
An experienced lawyer can potentially defeat asset forfeiture in drug crime cases. Throughout the process of legal representation, Attorney Gregory H. Comings provides clear communication and is readily available to clients. To schedule a consultation, call our office at (951) 686-3457 or reach us online. We diligently protect the rights of clients residing in Riverside, Moreno Valley, Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Indio, and Highland, as well as elsewhere throughout Riverside County.