An asset forfeiture attorney understands the complexities and unfairness involved in Maryland’s forfeiture system. Even if you are not charged with a crime, law enforcement can take — and keep — your cash, car, and other assets. Before you give up your property rights, consult with an aggressive asset forfeiture attorney at James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates.
What Is Asset Forfeiture?
Asset forfeiture is the process where the government confiscates your money or property. There are two primary types of asset forfeiture:
- Civil forfeiture: Federal, state, and local governments (such as Baltimore City or Baltimore County) can seize assets through civil forfeiture processes. In a civil forfeiture case, the government files a claim against the property (not the person who owns it). Your property can be seized under civil forfeiture laws if there is “clear and convincing” evidence that it was used or obtained illegally. This is less than the criminal burden of proof (“beyond a reasonable doubt”). Moreover, a criminal conviction isn’t necessary.
- Criminal forfeiture: The federal government can seize property if it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that was used in or obtained through criminal activity.
Civil asset forfeiture is the most common form of forfeiture in Maryland — and the most easily abused.
When the police seize your assets, they typically get to keep them. Unfortunately, this has lead to abuse of asset forfeiture laws. Rather than focusing on drug cartels and trafficking operations, many asset forfeiture claims involve normal citizens who are stopped for petty crimes or traffic violations. According to an Institute for Justice Study, Maryland law enforcement received more than $80 million from asset forfeiture equitable sharing funds.
What Can the Government Take During an Asset Forfeiture?
There are relatively few limits to what the government can seize. Law enforcement can take property that you allegedly used for criminal activities, purchased with illegally-obtained money, or even legally obtained. For example, this includes your:
- Money, securities, and investments,
- Real property (land, homes, and other buildings),
- Vehicles (such as cars, trucks, airplanes, and boats),
- Drugs and other dangerous substances,
- Raw materials used to manufacture drugs and other dangerous substances, and
- Other assets associated with your alleged criminal activity.
When Can the Government Take My Property?
Asset forfeiture involves two steps:
- The government’s actual seizure of your property, and
- The court process approving their seizure.
Under Maryland’s civil asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement can typically take your property if there is probable cause that it was used or obtained illegally.
However, the government must follow specific procedures before they confiscate your property. In 2016, Maryland did make some modest reforms to its civil forfeiture laws. Law enforcement agencies now:
- Cannot seize your home without a criminal conviction,
- Cannot take your money for a mere drug possession offense,
- Must provide you with a receipt documenting what they took,
- Provide detailed reports about forfeitures, and
- Follow other procedures that aim to reduce asset forfeiture abuse.
And, asset forfeiture is increasingly the focus of criminal justice reform efforts. If you have questions about Maryland’s current forfeiture laws, contact an asset forfeiture attorney.
Maryland’s Asset Forfeiture Process
Once law enforcement has your property, a court must approve the asset forfeiture. Typically, the government must:
- Send you a notice explaining what they seized and where they are keeping it, as well as whom you should contact about the forfeiture,
- File a complaint with the court, asserting its right to keep your property, and
- Serve you with a copy of its complaint.
To dispute the asset forfeiture, you must file an answer. However, you only have a short period of time to file your answer. If you miss this deadline, the government will typically keep your property.
Filing an answer to an asset forfeiture complaint is a detail-oriented process. And, once you file an answer, the court will schedule a hearing. At this hearing, you must present evidence disputing the government’s claim to your property. Without the help of an asset forfeiture attorney, you might make serious mistakes (such as failing to assert affirmative defenses), resulting in the loss of your property.
How Do I Stop Asset Forfeiture in Baltimore?
Without an asset forfeiture attorney, retrieving your property is an uphill battle. You must evaluate the evidence, apply legal knowledge, and file documents with the court, as well as present your arguments at a hearing. However, James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates is here to help. Our lawyers will:
- Determine whether the government followed the correct procedures and met its filing deadlines,
- Assess the evidence surrounding the forfeiture,
- Protect your affirmative defenses, and
- Negotiate with the government on your behalf.
We not only strongly oppose predatory asset forfeiture, we also will tirelessly fight on your behalf. Contact us as soon as possible to discuss your claim with an asset forfeiture attorney.
Regain Your Property With Help From a Baltimore County Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Speaking with an asset forfeiture attorney is the first step towards regaining your property. At James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates, we assist clients with both asset forfeiture issues and criminal defense. We will work with you to develop an aggressive, personalized strategy for your case. Contact us today for a free and confidential assessment.