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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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How to Challenge Federal Asset Forfeiture and Get Your Property Back

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 09:12 am


How to Challenge Federal Asset Forfeiture and Get Your Property Back

Having your property seized by the federal government can be a scary and frustrating experience. Asset forfeiture laws allow law enforcement to take cash, cars, homes, and other property that they suspect is connected to criminal activity – even without charging the owner with a crime!

While asset forfeiture can be an important tool for fighting crime, it’s also controversial. Innocent property owners can get caught up in the process and lose their property permanently. And some argue the financial incentives lead police to abuse civil forfeiture.

But there are ways to fight back if the feds take your property through asset forfeiture. Don’t give up hope! With the right legal strategy, you may be able to get your property returned. This article will walk you through the basics of how federal asset forfeiture works, common defenses, and steps for challenging a seizure.

What is federal asset forfeiture?

Asset forfeiture allows police to seize property, like cash, cars, boats, and real estate, if they suspect it’s connected to criminal activity. There’s criminal forfeiture, which happens after a conviction, and civil forfeiture, where police can take assets without charging anyone with a crime.

Federal asset forfeiture laws let agencies like the FBI, DEA, ATF, and ICE seize property related to federal offenses. For example, they may try to forfeit a car used to transport drugs, or a bank account linked to money laundering.

Police don’t need to prove the owner is guilty. They just need probable cause the property is tied to a federal crime. The owner must then fight to get their property back.

Common defenses against federal forfeiture

If federal law enforcement seizes your property, don’t panic. There are legal defenses you can raise to challenge the forfeiture and (hopefully) get your property back:

  • Innocent owner defense – Argue you did nothing wrong and had no knowledge of any criminal activity involving your property.
  • Excessive fines – The seizure violates the 8th Amendment prohibition against excessive fines or punishment.
  • Lack of notice – You weren’t properly notified of the forfeiture proceedings.
  • Statutory defenses – The seizure doesn’t meet requirements in forfeiture statutes.

An experienced attorney can review the details of your case and identify any viable defenses. Some common examples:

  • Police lacked probable cause connecting your property to a federal crime.
  • The property’s value is disproportionate to the alleged offense.
  • You weren’t notified of your right to contest the forfeiture.

Raising strong legal defenses gives you the best shot at getting your property back through the forfeiture challenge process.

Contesting a federal forfeiture case

The process for disputing a federal asset forfeiture depends on whether it’s a civil or criminal case:

Civil forfeiture challenges

For civil forfeitures, you typically have 30 days after receiving notice to file a verified claim with the seizing agency. This starts the official court proceedings.

Next, you’ll have 20 days to file a forfeiture complaint or answer the government’s complaint. This is where you’ll raise legal defenses explaining why the forfeiture is improper.

You can also request an immediate return of the seized property while the case plays out. Through something called the hardship process, you argue returning the property won’t hurt the government’s case.

Discovery, motions, and either settlement negotiations or a bench trial will follow. Having an experienced attorney helps navigate this complex litigation process.

Criminal case challenges

If you’re indicted on federal charges and the government also seeks criminal forfeiture, the process happens through the criminal case.

The prosecutor must include the forfeiture in the indictment and prove the connection to the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. You can challenge this at trial as part of fighting the criminal charges.

One advantage in criminal forfeiture is you have a right to a jury trial. This gives you more ways to fight the seizure.

Getting help fighting federal forfeiture

Don’t try taking on the federal government alone. Hiring an experienced attorney is key.

Look for a lawyer familiar with federal forfeiture laws and procedures in your district. A legal defense focusing on civil rights and asset forfeiture issues is also a plus.

Upfront costs may seem high. But a good lawyer can get your property back and has a much better chance of successfully negotiating with the government compared to going it alone.

You can also contact advocacy groups like the ACLU and Institute for Justice, which provide resources and support for forfeiture challenges. They may even help connect you with attorneys willing to work pro bono or on contingency.

Bottom line – fight back against unjust federal forfeitures. With smart legal help, many property owners prevail and get their assets returned.


– “Types of Federal Forfeiture”, justice.gov

– “Understanding the Hardship Process”, justice.gov

– Institute for Justice, “Civil Forfeiture”

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