The federal government and the State of Washington both have criminal forfeiture laws. The essence of these laws is that if you commit certain crimes, the government may be able to seize some of your property – if there’s reason to believe that property was used in connection with any criminal activity. For example, if you are charged with a drug crime, the government might seize your car if they think you used the car to transport any of the drugs. In short, defendants “forfeit” the right to this property.
When does forfeiture apply?
According to Federal rule 32.2 Criminal Forfeiture, the court judge assigned to your case will decide if any property can be seized after a plea of guilty, a verdict of guilty, or a plea of nolo contendere (“no contest”). Generally, the defendant does have a right to request a hearing to contest the forfeiture.
Criminal forfeiture applies mostly in cases involving:
- Drug offenses
- Illegal gambling
- Crimes that specifically allow for criminal forfeiture
Items that may be seized include:
- Bank accounts
- Business assets
- Property that was received through illegal actions
- Property that is illegal to possess
- Any items used to commit a crime
Criminal forfeiture focuses on the defendant. It’s another way of punishing the defendant. Civil forfeiture focuses on the specific item of property that is being taken. In a civil forfeiture case, the owner of the property does not need to be charged with a crime. The standard of proof in a criminal forfeiture case is higher than in a civil forfeiture case – though not as high as beyond a reasonable doubt.
Do you have any rights in criminal forfeiture case?
The federal rule does require that you be notified that some of your property may be subject to forfeiture. Washington forfeiture laws are comparable to the federal law. If there is a hearing, often any evidence in the record including your plea agreement may be considered. Experienced Vancouver, WA criminal forfeiture lawyers do work proactively to negotiate plea agreements that resolve any forfeiture issues – instead of addressing the forfeiture issues after your plea or trial.
The prosecution does need to show that the property was useful in committing the crime or obtained through criminal activity. One our main strategies is to show that law enforcement is casting too wide a net – that the items the government wants to take have no connection to the crime.
We may also assert that the property that was seized was as a result of an illegal seizure, in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.
In addition to the defendant, criminal forfeiture can affect other people who have an interest in the property such as a spouse or a business partner.
It’s tough enough focusing on your criminal case. Having to worry that you assets may be seized is an extra upsetting burden. If you’re an innocent spouse or business partner, you naturally wonder why you should be punished for the wrongs of someone else. At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver, WA criminal defense lawyers work aggressively to win your criminal case. We also focus on your rights to keep your property – especially if you weren’t involved in the crime. To discuss any attempt by the government to take your assets, please call our offices in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA. You can reach us at 360-695-3309 or fill out our contact form.