Man being arrested by police officer

Can Law Enforcement Take – And Keep – My Property?

Most people know that if they are arrested and accused of a crime, they could be looking at jail time, fines, and probation. Not as many understand that the police can also seize property if they believe it was involved in the alleged crime. Even worse, the police can keep the property even if the owner is never charged or convicted of a crime. Your cash, car, or even home could get caught up in the middle, and getting it back isn’t easy. The civil rights attorneys of Hale & Monico will fight to have your property returned.

Overview of Civil Asset Forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture is the process by which law enforcement agencies confiscate property suspected of being involved in a crime, often alleged drug deals. In Illinois, the civil asset forfeiture process is widely abused, with seizures easily reaching into the tens of millions of dollars annually. Law enforcement agencies keep the money and property, which therefore gives them a profit incentive to take as much as they can.

Asset forfeiture proceedings are civil in nature, not criminal, meaning different presumptions apply. If you are charged with a crime, you are considered innocent until proven guilty. It’s up to the prosecution to demonstrate that you are guilty. The same rules don’t apply in a civil asset forfeiture case. In fact, it’s your property – not you – that is the defendant in the matter.

The process to recover your property is heavily stacked in favor of the government. These are the ways the property owner (the claimant) is put at a disadvantage:

  • The claimant has to show that the property was not connected to illegal activity
  • The burden on law enforcement is the preponderance of the evidence, meaning, more likely than not it was connected to a crime
  • Property found in close proximity to drugs will be presumed connected to illegal drug activity
  • You have no right to court-appointed legal counsel in a civil matter
  • You have to show that you didn’t know, or could not have known, that your property was used or obtained in connection with a crime
  • The prosecutor, but not the claimant, can use hearsay evidence during the proceeding

These rules make it hard to get your property back, even if you did nothing wrong. Fortunately, you have several potential tools at your disposal, including:

  • Fourth Amendment. If your property was seized in violation of the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, we will demand the case be dismissed.
  • Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment protects against excessive fines, including forfeitures that are disproportionate to the alleged crime.
  • Probable cause. Law enforcement must have sufficient evidence to connect the property with an alleged crime at the time it was seized.
  • Unreasonable delay. Excessive delay in bringing a civil asset forfeiture case could result in it being dismissed.

Contact Hale & Monico Today

Retaining a knowledgeable civil rights attorney is the first step to undoing an unjust asset forfeiture. Our team will investigate the facts surrounding the property seizure and build a case for reversing it. Call Hale & Monico to learn more about how we can defend your rights.