Asset forfeiture refers to government seizure of property as a result of a criminal or civil case. In criminal cases, assets are seized based on the criminal activity or use of assets in commission of a crime. Examples of asset forfeiture in criminal cases include drug cases where homes, vehicles and other assets used in the manufacture or trafficking of drugs are seized. In RICO cases, assets connected with organized crime or racketeering may be confiscated. Forfeiture of assets in a criminal case is ruled on after conviction as part of the penalty for committing the crime.
The government’s burden of proof in a criminal case requires “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” and proving the case rests on the prosecution. However, in civil forfeiture cases, the standard burden of proof is a “preponderance of evidence”, meaning that certainty must be greater than 50% in order to prove a legal point. Additionally, after the government establishes there is probable cause and seizes the property, the burden of proof lies with the defendant to prove that the government did not have the legal right to seize his or her property. In civil cases, the suit is brought against the property rather than the owner, and criminal wrongdoing must not be proven in order for asset forfeiture to take place. The majority of asset forfeiture cases are litigated in civil courts. Because the burden of proof lies with the property owner, the government usually opts for a civil court venue to gain a legal advantage.
At Sands & Moskowitz, P.A., our lawyers litigate asset forfeiture cases on behalf of our clients in criminal and civil courts. If your property has been seized by the state or federal government in a criminal or civil case, please contact our office at 305-529-3733 or send us an email to discuss how we can help.