Forfeiture of property is a serious problem because it’s a money-maker for the government and necessarily invites corruption. And there are few things worse in criminal justice when it comes to the government taking away your property. In fact, that’s not justice at all, especially if you haven’t been convicted of any crime. Civil asset forfeiture proceeds twist that logic even further. Despite recent reforms in Maryland, law enforcement officer at the local, state and federal level in Maryland are still taking property from innocent people because they can.
With the help of an experienced attorney, you can and should immediately fight back so that your property can be returned to you. When it comes to forfeiture of property, cash and cars are two frequent targets. The government can assert that your vehicle was used in the commission of an alleged crime, or that your money was obtained as a result of criminal activity like drug distribution or white collar crime.
If your property was taken, then immediately contact an experienced attorney who can fight for the quick return of your property. The attorneys at James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates can also protect you against any criminal investigation that might be related to the taking of your property.
Criminal defense attorney, James Crawford, has been fighting forfeiture actions since 1992. He has represented Maryland clients who have a lot to lose, whether it’s their car, their home or business, or the money in their pockets or bank accounts.
Defending Your Property Against Forfeiture / Seizure
It is my position that you are innocent until proven guilty – which applies not only to your freedom but to your property as well. If we arrange a favorable plea bargain or you are acquitted of charges at trial, the only person with a legitimate right to your property is you. Unfortunately, the police or the prosecutor may have already taken it.
I’ve seen two common situations where the government oversteps its authority: You are detained on suspicion of a drug offense. The police conduct a search of your body, car, or home, and seize the cash and other property they find. Later, you are released and never charged, but the police keep your cash.
You are under investigation for a white collar crime. A prosecutor obtains a grand jury indictment – freezing the assets in your bank accounts in the process – before he or she has even brought a formal criminal complaint against you.
Forfeiture of property is a widespread problem because the rightful owner must bring a claim for the property after his or her criminal case has been resolved. Many people never do. Very strict timelines exist in these cases, so contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately after your property is seized.
Asset Forfeiture Laws in Maryland
Several provisions of Maryland law authorize the seizure and forfeiture of property under certain circumstances. Many asset forfeiture cases in Maryland involve property that is subjected to a forfeiture proceeding after it is alleged that the property was seized in connection with a violation of the Controlled Dangerous Substances law. After the seizure, a forfeiture proceeding commences.
Asset forfeitures are a corrupting cash cow for the state. In federal fiscal 2014, law enforcement agencies in Maryland received $8.6 million in Equitable Sharing payments from the DOJ Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF). From federal fiscal 2007 to 2015 the amount Maryland received from AFF was between less than $3 million and up to more than $8 million.
According to the Equitable Sharing Program, money from the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) may only be used for specific law enforcement purposes, such as investigative support, training, equipment, facility upgrades, and educational programs. Funding is usually used for one-time purposes and is meant to supplement, not supplant, the budgets of the law enforcement agencies.
Notification Requirements for Asset Forfeitures
Within 30 days after the seizure of property, a seizing authority must send written information via first-class mail to the owner of seized property, if known, providing the following information:
- the location and description of the seized property;
- the name and contact information of an individual or office within the seizing authority that can provide further information concerning the seized property, including information on how the property may be returned to the owner; and
- The written information must contain a disclaimer that the document does not constitute legal advice.
A seizing authority or prosecuting authority may not directly or indirectly transfer seized property to a federal law enforcement authority or agency unless a criminal case related to the seizure is prosecuted in the federal court system under federal law or the property owner consents to the forfeiture.
Procedural Timelines for Forfeitures of Assets and Property
A complaint seeking forfeiture of property, other than a motor vehicle or money, must be filed within the earlier of 90 days after the seizure or one year after the final disposition of the criminal charge for the violation giving rise to the forfeiture. A complaint for the forfeiture of a motor vehicle must be filed within 45 days after the motor vehicle is seized. A proceeding about money must be filed within 90 days after the final disposition of criminal proceedings that arise out of the Controlled Dangerous Substances law.
If the State of Maryland or a political subdivision of the State of Maryland does not file proceeding about money within the 90-day period, the seized money must be returned to the owner on request by the owner.
If the owner fails to ask for the return of the money within one year after the final disposition of criminal proceedings, the money must revert to the political subdivision in which the money was seized or to the State of Maryland, if the money was seized by the State of Maryland.
Forfeiture of Ownership Interest in Property
Property or part of a property in which a person has an ownership interest is subject to forfeiture as proceeds, if the State of Maryland establishes by clear and convincing evidence that:
- the person has violated specified statutory provisions pertaining to controlled dangerous substances or has attempted or conspired to violate State controlled dangerous substances laws;
- the property was acquired by the person during the violation or within a reasonable time after the violation; and
- there was no other likely source for the property.
Property Subject to Forfeiture under Maryland Law
The following properties are subject to forfeiture:
- controlled dangerous substances manufactured, distributed, dispensed, acquired, or possessed in violation of the Controlled Dangerous Substances law;
- raw materials, products, and equipment used, or intended for use, in manufacturing, compounding, processing, delivering, importing, or exporting a controlled dangerous substance in violation of the Controlled Dangerous Substances law;
- property used or intended for use as a container for property described above;
- conveyances, including aircraft, vehicles, or vessels used or intended to be used to transport, or facilitate the transportation, sale, receipt, possession, or concealment
of property described items (1) or (2);
- books, records, and research, including formulas, microfilm, tapes, and data used or intended for use in violation of the Controlled Dangerous Substances law;
- money of more than $300 or weapons used or intended to be used in connection with the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensing, or possession of a
controlled dangerous substance or controlled paraphernalia;
- any amount of money that is directly connected to the unlawful distribution of a controlled dangerous substance;
- drug paraphernalia;
- controlled paraphernalia;
- the remaining balance of the proceeds of a sale by a holder of an installment sale agreement of goods seized;
- real property; and
- everything of value furnished, or intended to be furnished, in exchange for a controlled dangerous substance in violation of the Controlled Dangerous Substances law, all proceeds traceable to the exchange, and all negotiable instruments and securities used, or intended to be used, to facilitate any violation of the Controlled Dangerous Substances law.
Conditions Excluding Property from Forfeiture
The following property may not be forfeited unless the State of Maryland establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the violation of the Controlled Dangerous Substances law was committed with the owner’s actual knowledge:
- property or an interest in conveyances, real property, everything of value furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled dangerous substance;
- all proceeds traceable to the exchange; and
- all applicable negotiable instruments and securities used or intended to be used to facilitate a controlled dangerous substances violation.
Maryland law applies additional exclusions to the following types of property:
- conveyances used as a common carrier or vehicle for hire;
- conveyances forfeited when a person other than the owner illegally possessed the conveyance;
- real property associated with specified controlled dangerous substance violations; and
- property used as the principal family residence.
The History of Maryland’s Asset Forfeiture Laws
Asset forfeiture programs fall into two categories – criminal forfeiture and civil forfeiture. Forfeiture programs exist nationwide at the local, state and federal level.
Criminal forfeiture actions are brought against a criminal defendant. In criminal forfeiture, the government “indicts” the seized property. The government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the property in question was used for or derived from the underlying crime. Maryland does not have a criminal forfeiture process.
Civil forfeiture actions are brought against the property and not the owner of the property. Civil forfeitures occur irrespective of a conviction. The action is brought against an individual’s property and civil liberty protections do not apply. The standard of proof for civil forfeiture is lower than the criminal standard, in that the government must prove by a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, that the property in question was used or obtained illegally.
Forfeiture programs, particularly civil forfeiture, have received increased scrutiny in recent years, because of individuals facing the loss of a home or property without ever being charged with a crime, while fighting to keep their property in a system that is stacked against them. Challenging civil forfeiture can be costly and time-consuming, which can discourage citizens from initiating the process to retrieve their property. Opponents of these programs argue that forfeiture lead to corruption, improper usage, and civil liberty violations.
Proponents of forfeiture programs claim asset forfeiture is an important law enforcement tool that assists in dismantling criminal organizations and offsets the cost of criminal investigations.
While the laws in some jurisdictions allow a seizing agency to retain the proceeds from forfeited property, Maryland law requires that the proceeds from forfeitures processed under State law be deposited into the general fund of the State of Maryland or the appropriate local government.
Federal Asset Forfeiture Program
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Asset Forfeiture Program (AFP) was established by the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. The program’s objective is the seizure and forfeiture of assets that represent the proceeds of, or were used to facilitate, federal crimes.
The U.S. Marshals Service, under DOJ, is responsible for the management and disposal of forfeited property. Other components of DOJ involved in AFP include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the U.S.Attorneys’ Offices.
Participating components outside of DOJ include the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Office of Inspector General), the U.S. Department of Defense (Criminal Investigative Service), the U.S. Department of State (Bureau of Diplomatic Security), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Office of Criminal Investigations), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Under the federal Equitable Sharing Program, the net proceeds from sales of forfeited assets are shared with the state and local law enforcement agencies that participated in the seizure.
Distinguishing Between Joint Investigative or Adoptive Forfeitures
State and local forfeitures can be either joint investigative and adoptive. Joint investigative forfeitures occur when federal law enforcement agencies cooperate with state or local law enforcement agencies to seize assets. Adoptive forfeitures occur when state and local law enforcement agencies forfeit assets from state crimes to be processed at the federal level.
On January 16, 2015, however, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued an order, effective immediately, prohibiting federal agencies from “adopting” assets seized by state and local law enforcement agencies. However, the order contains an exception for property that directly relates to public safety concerns (e.g., firearms, ammunition, explosives, and property associated with child pornography). Examples of property subject to the order include vehicles, valuables, cash, and other monetary instruments.
The order does not apply to:
- seizures by state and local authorities working together with federal authorities in a joint task force;
- seizures by state and local authorities that are the result of joint federal-state investigations or that are coordinated with federal authorities as part of ongoing federal investigations; or
- seizures pursuant to federal seizure warrants, obtained from federal courts to take custody of assets originally seized under state law.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury issued a similar policy for its forfeiture programs.
Federal Asset Forfeiture Actions in Maryland – Visit the website for the U.S. Attorneys office for the District of Maryland to learn more about federal asset forfeiture actions. Find information on the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the U.S. Attorneys’ Office in the Criminal Division which prosecutes money laundering case and seeks the forfeiture of criminal proceeds as part of the sentence in a criminal case and in civil forfeiture cases. Find out why some cases to do not warrant federal criminal prosecution, but the federal government still acts on the civil forfeiture of property.
Finding an Asset Forfeiture Lawyer in Maryland
If you are arrested, but never charged, or you are acquitted at trial, the government may have already taken your property and intends to keep it, knowing that it has the upper hand.
Don’t let that happen. Contact me at 443-709-9999 for a free consultation to discuss ways to get your property back after the state or federal goverment initiates an asset forfeiture action in Maryland.