Federal agencies are allowed to conduct administrative forfeitures of your assets without the involvement of a court. Many defendants do not contest administrative asset forfeitures. If they don’t, the assets that have been administratively seized will be forfeited, and ownership will be transferred to the government. If a federal agency has seized your assets, you should reach out to an experienced federal asset forfeiture defense attorney for help with contesting the action. You must respond to a forfeiture notice promptly and should retain a forfeiture defense attorney who understands the applicable laws and regulations. If you do not timely respond, your assets will be forfeited by default.
Federal administrative asset forfeiture is a civil proceeding that occurs outside of court and is conducted by federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, or the Internal Revenue Service. Administrative asset forfeiture cases are handled internally within the government. The agency that handles the forfeiture case may or may not be the same one that seized your assets. Administrative asset forfeiture can be used for many different types of property. However, real estate cannot go through the administrative forfeiture process. Federal agencies have the authority to administratively seize assets under 19 U.S.C. § 1607.
While federal agencies are allowed to complete administrative asset forfeitures as a more efficient and less expensive method than forfeiture processes handled in courts, administrative forfeiture deprives property owners of important due process rights. The rules are designed to allow agencies to seize and keep your property. An asset forfeiture attorney helps to challenge the administrative forfeiture of your assets and can help to appeal an administrative decision in court if the decision finds that your property should be forfeited.
Many federal forfeiture cases go through the administrative process since it does not require that a person is criminally charged and most people fail to contest these types of actions. As long as an agency can demonstrate it has probable cause to believe that the seized assets were proceeds from criminal activity or were used to facilitate a crime, it can initiate the administrative asset forfeiture process.
The agency that intends to seize and forfeit your property must first send a notice that it intends to do so. It must also publicize its notice on the federal forfeiture website.
The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act was passed in 2000 and made changes to the rules governing administrative forfeiture proceedings. Under this law, the federal agency that seizes assets must begin the administrative forfeiture process within a set period and must give claimants time to file claims. If a claim is filed, the government must respond within a set time and either return the property to the owner or refer the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The administrative asset forfeiture process cannot be used to seize and forfeit real estate or assets worth more than $500,000. Instead, these types of assets can only be seized through a judicial proceeding under the civil or criminal forfeiture process.
A federal asset forfeiture defense lawyer might challenge a forfeiture in a few different ways. For example, an attorney might challenge the seizing agency’s claim that it has probable cause. Some of the potential defenses are listed below.
The innocent owner defense is designed for third parties who own property that has been seized. For example, if your brother-in-law borrowed your car and used it to traffic drugs without your consent or knowledge, you could assert this defense to get your vehicle back from the government. You will need to present evidence showing that you did not know about the illegal activity. Bona fide purchasers can also assert this defense. Unlike in criminal cases, people have the burden of proof when they assert an innocent owner defense in an administrative asset forfeiture proceeding. By contrast, the government has the burden of proof to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case.
Another potential defense is improper notice. If the government did not provide you with sufficient notice that it intended to administratively seize and forfeit your assets, your lawyer could argue that the property should be returned to you.
The 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people from excessive fines. In an administrative asset forfeiture case, your attorney might be able to contest the forfeiture if the government is trying to seize an excessive amount of money from you.
Other defenses might also be available under various federal statutes.
All forfeiture matters must follow specific rules and laws. If you do not exercise your rights or fail to follow the procedural rules that apply to your asset forfeiture matter, you could permanently lose your property. If you receive a notice that a federal agency intends to seize your assets, you should immediately contact an experienced administrative asset forfeiture defense attorney for help. You have a limited time to respond to the notice or could lose your property by default.
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