Criminal Defense: Asset Forfeiture Charges
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The term "asset forfeiture" refers to the confiscation of certain assets by state or federal law enforcement authorities. State and federal lawmakers have enacted statutes which allow government agencies to confiscate your personal property, such as:
- motor vehicles
- bank deposits
If the state or federal government can prove that certain assets were obtained with proceeds from criminal activities or were used during the commission of a criminal act, they will seek to keep your property.
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Asset Forfeiture & The Government
The Miami criminal law firm of Donet, McMillan & Trontz, P.A. (DMT) has represented dozens of clients in asset forfeiture cases.
If state or federal law enforcement has taken your personal property, contact the civil asset forfeiture attorneys at DMT to help your recover your property.
In a criminal case, the state or federal government will try to punish individuals charged with criminal acts. The government's burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt. A prosecutor will attempt to prove the criminal charges against an individual or individuals in criminal court. If an individual accepts a plea or is found guilty by a jury after trial, punishments include probation, community control, jail or prison time.
An asset forfeiture case is a civil action and a distinct and separate matter that is addressed in civil court. Because an asset forfeiture is a civil matter, the state or federal government's burden of proof is clear and convincing evidence, a lesser standard than beyond a reasonable doubt. A city, county or federal attorney will attempt to prove that your property was purchased with the proceeds of a crime or that your property was used in the commission of a crime. If the government proves the case against an individual, the property can be sold at auction or used by the governmental agency that seized the property.
Examples of Asset Forfeitures
The following are examples of asset forfeited relating to specific crimes:
Florida Asset Forfeiture Actions Process
- Money obtained in or connected with drug trafficking cases (i.e., cocaine trafficking or marijuana trafficking);
- Money obtained in or connected with fraud cases (i.e., insurance fraud, mortgage fraud or Medicare fraud);
- Money seized in a money laundering cases;
- Automobiles, boats, homes and jewelry purchased with money obtained in drug trafficking or fraud cases;
- Automobiles, boats, homes or businesses used to commit the crimes of drug trafficking or fraud cases.
The State of Florida enacted the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act. All civil forfeiture actions brought in state court will be addressed by a circuit court judge in the civil division. Unlike criminal cases which are governed by The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, asset forfeiture actions are governed by the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. Once the property has been taken, law enforcement will provide written notice of their intent to forfeit certain assets.
Once notice has been provided, a party has 15 days to request an adversarial preliminary hearing. The judge will hear testimony from both parties to determine if probable cause existed to seize the property. If the court finds that no probable cause existed to seize the assets, they will be returned to the owner as long as the property in question is not being held as evidence in the case. In the event that that court finds no probable cause, the county or city may be responsible attorney's fees and cost not to exceed $1,000.00.
If the court finds that probable cause existed to seize the assets, the property owner will have to file an answer to the civil complaint filed by the city or county. The claimant will have 20 days to file an answer containing an affirmative defense. Prior to the trial, the property owner and seizing law enforcement agency can reach a settlement prior to the conclusion of the forfeiture proceeding. At the conclusion of the trial, using the clear and convincing standard, either the judge or jury will determine if the forfeited property was being used or obtained in violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
Federal Forfeiture Actions Process
Federal forfeiture actions are governed by the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. Civil forfeiture actions in federal court are usually handled differently than state court forfeiture actions. In most cases, the forfeiture actions are included in the indictment containing the criminal charges. If the forfeiture action is contained in the indictment, the criminal forfeiture action will be addressed at the time of sentencing in the event a plea is entered or a defendant is found guilty by a jury. The United States Marshals Service handles all property seized by Department of Justice agencies while the United States Treasury Department handles all seized property taken by Treasury agencies.
If a law enforcement agency impounds your property at the time of arrest, and your receive a notice that the state of federal government is seeking to seize your personal property, it is imperative that you contact a Miami asset forfeiture lawyer at Donet, McMillan & Trontz, P.A. to protect your rights and your assets.
Consult a Civil Forfeiture Attorney at Donet, McMillan & Trontz, P.A.
To speak with a skilled civil forfeiture lawyer at our firm, or if you have questions regarding your asset forfeiture case, please contact Donet, McMillan & Trontz, P.A.
to schedule your free consultation. You can call our office at (305) 396-3982 or reach us by completing the form on our contact page or by sending an e-mail. We are available every day of the year, 24 hours a day.