Fighting Unjust Asset Seizures: Your Guide to Hiring the Right Criminal Defense Attorney
Having your assets seized can be an incredibly stressful and traumatic experience. Many innocent Americans have had their cash, cars, homes, and other property taken through civil asset forfeiture without ever being charged with a crime.
Fortunately, you have rights under the law. The 4th Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. If you believe your assets were wrongly seized, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help you fight back.
This guide will walk you through the asset forfeiture process, your legal protections, and how to find the right lawyer to get your property returned.
How Asset Forfeiture Works
Asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize assets they suspect are connected to criminal activity. There are two main types:
- Criminal forfeiture – Assets seized after you’ve been convicted of a crime. This requires a criminal trial with proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Civil forfeiture – Assets seized without charging or convicting you of a crime. The government only needs probable cause to believe the assets are linked to illegal activity.
With civil forfeiture, it’s guilty until proven innocent. The burden is on you to fight it and get your property back.
Police and prosecutors have huge financial incentives to pursue forfeitures aggressively. Many agencies use seized assets to fund their budgets, new equipment, and officer bonuses. This has led to rampant abuse.
Common Ways Assets Get Seized
- Traffic stops – Officers make a routine stop then claim your cash or car smells like drugs. They seize assets even if no drugs are found.
- Airport security – TSA or customs agents single you out and seize any cash you’re carrying, claiming you were going to buy drugs or launder money.
- Home raids – Police raid your home on a tip but find nothing illegal. They still seize valuables like cash, cars, or jewelry found on the premises.
- IRS seizures – The IRS seizes your bank account or property over alleged tax debts without filing any charges.
- Structuring allegations – Banks must report cash transactions over $10,000. Depositing less can trigger allegations of “structuring” to avoid reporting, leading to seizures.
Your Legal Protections
The 4th Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. If assets were taken improperly, your rights were violated.
With civil forfeiture, the government’s burden of proof is very low. But winning your assets back is possible by asserting your rights in court.
The Innocent Owner Defense
If you had no knowledge of or involvement in any crime related to your seized assets, you can argue you’re an innocent owner.
To use this defense, you must show:
- You legally acquired the assets
- You were not aware of and did not consent to any illegal use
- You did everything reasonably possible to prevent misuse of the assets
This shifts the burden to the government to prove your guilt. An experienced attorney can help build your innocent owner case.
Finding the Right Lawyer
Don’t go it alone against the power of the government. Hire a skilled criminal defense lawyer to fight for your rights.
Look for attorneys with specific experience handling asset forfeiture cases. Key credentials to seek out:
- Expertise in 4th Amendment issues – Understanding search and seizure laws is crucial.
- Familiarity with civil litigation – Asset forfeiture cases use civil law, not criminal. Your lawyer must know the procedures.
- Success record – Ask about their track record with similar cases. How often do they get seized assets returned?
- Flat fees – The best lawyers charge flat rates, not hourly, for forfeiture cases. This keeps costs controlled upfront.
- Contingency fees – Some lawyers will take cases on contingency, charging only if you win. This removes financial risk.
- Client reviews – Look for lawyers with glowing reviews from past clients who had assets returned.
Don’t delay in fighting back after an unjust seizure. There are strict deadlines, often just 30 days, to contest it.
The more time that passes, the harder it becomes to get your property back. Act quickly to hire a lawyer and have the best chance.
With the right attorney on your side, many seizures can be successfully challenged. You have rights under the 4th Amendment and innocent owner protections.
Fight back against civil forfeiture abuse. Hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to put the law on your side and get your life back to normal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What if I can’t afford a lawyer?
Many top lawyers offer contingency fees or flexible payment plans. Don’t let finances stop you from defending your rights.
Q: Can I get my assets back without a lawyer?
It’s extremely difficult. The laws and procedures are complex. Going pro se gives the government advantage.
Q: What if assets were seized by federal agents?
The same 4th Amendment rights apply. Federal forfeiture cases can also be challenged.
Q: How long does it take to get my assets returned?
Most cases resolve in 2-6 months. Quick action, a strong defense, and an experienced lawyer speed up the process.
Q: What happens to my seized assets in the meantime?
They go into an escrow account. You lose access until the case is resolved and assets returned.