Covered by NYDaily News. Las Vegas man accused of threatening a prominent attorney and making vile remarks.
Covered by New York Times, and other outlets. Fake heiress accused of conning the city’s wealthy, and has an HBO special being made about her.
Accused of stalking Alec Baldwin. The case garnered nationwide attention, with USAToday, NYPost, and other media outlets following it closely.
Juror who prompted calls for new Ghislaine Maxwell trial turns to lawyer who defended Anna Sorokin.
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Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 09:10 am
Having your property or assets seized by the federal government can be a scary and confusing experience. Let’s break down how federal criminal forfeiture works, so you can understand your rights and options if this happens to you.
Criminal forfeiture is when the government takes ownership of property or assets that were involved in certain federal crimes. This includes:
Criminal forfeiture happens alongside sentencing when someone is convicted of a federal crime. It’s meant to punish criminals by taking away tools and profits from their crimes.
Here’s a basic overview of how federal criminal forfeiture works:
This gives the basic flow, but there are a lot of details involved at each step. Let’s break it down further.
Federal prosecutors must identify any property or assets subject to forfeiture in the indictment when they initially charge the defendant with a crime. This puts the defendant on notice that the government intends to forfeit certain property.
The government doesn’t have to identify all the property at this stage. They can amend the indictment to add more later on if additional forfeitable property is discovered.
If a defendant is convicted at trial, there is a separate forfeiture phase where the jury decides what property should be forfeited. This is based on evidence presented during the trial about the property’s connection to the crime.
The burden is on the government to prove by a “preponderance of evidence” that the property is subject to forfeiture. This is a lower standard than proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
After the jury determines what should be forfeited, the court enters a preliminary order of forfeiture. This authorizes the government to seize the property if they don’t already have it.
At this point, the government takes ownership of the property in theory. But the forfeiture isn’t final yet – third parties can still challenge it if they have a legal interest in the property.
Once the preliminary forfeiture order is entered, federal marshals, FBI agents, or other law enforcement can seize any forfeited property not already in the government’s possession. This includes:
The government tries to seize forfeited property quickly to prevent it from being sold, hidden, or destroyed before forfeiture is finalized.
After receiving notice of the preliminary forfeiture order, third parties have 30 days to file a petition claiming a legal interest in the property. This is how someone could challenge the forfeiture to try and get their property back.
Possible third party claimants include:
The court holds a hearing to consider any petitions and amend the forfeiture order if necessary. If a third party claim is successful, the government may have to return seized property or pay compensation.
Once any third party claims are resolved, the court enters a final order of forfeiture. This formally transfers title of the property to the government. At this point, the forfeiture is very difficult to challenge.
The seized assets are sold, and sale proceeds go to the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund. This fund supports law enforcement efforts and compensates victims.
In limited circumstances, property can be forfeited civilly without a criminal conviction. This happens through administrative forfeiture proceedings when:
With administrative forfeiture, law enforcement can seize property linked to illegal activity and forfeit it more quickly without going through a criminal trial. But the value limits mean it’s not used for major assets.
For property worth more than $500,000, the government must obtain a criminal conviction before forfeiting assets, which provides greater procedural protections.
If your property or assets are seized for federal forfeiture, here are some options to try and get them back:
An experienced attorney can advise you on the best strategies based on your situation. But in general, it’s an uphill battle once the seizure and forfeiture process has begun.
The key takeaways on federal criminal forfeiture proceedings include:
Having property or assets seized in federal forfeiture can be devastating. Consult an attorney immediately if this happens to understand your rights and navigate the process. An experienced lawyer may be able to negotiate return of some assets or help protect your interests in a federal investigation.
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