Federal Seizures Present Traps for Unwary Owners in Maryland
In criminal matters, a citizen cannot be held indefinitely on mere suspicion or a hunch of wrongdoing. The constitution prohibits preventive detention of people. However, the same principle is not true of property. Each year in Maryland, many people who are innocent owners of cash, bank accounts and cars have their property seized without a warrant on suspicion of involvement in crime.
Often these individuals have never been in trouble with the law and are unaware of the pitfalls surrounding federal seizures. Traps within the forfeiture process and financial incentives for law enforcement make federal seizures challenging for unwary owners.
People Face Hazards After Their Property Has Been Forfeited
Property is seized by police in the course of an investigation and the owner is given a receipt for the property. Eventually, the owner will receive a notice of forfeiture. It is then up to the owner to take the steps necessary to get the property back.
Jumping through the hoops required to recover property is challenging because federal forfeiture notices are difficult to understand. Frequently people make the mistake of trying to pursue a claim for their property without obtaining legal advice from a knowledgeable Baltimore federal forfeiture attorney. This is a big mistake!
There are specific rules governing forfeiture claims. If the claim is not filed on time, or is phrased improperly, the owner can lose their rights to the property completely, regardless of innocence of wrongdoing or whether the property has been misused.
Financial Incentives of Forfeiture Lead to Questionable Motives
Forfeiture has become lucrative. According to the Baltimore Sun, proceeds from forfeitures yielded almost $4.7 billion for cash-strapped federal agencies in 2012. With tight budgets throughout most government sectors, federal law enforcement agencies may seek this source of revenue to support their operations.
The lucrative nature of forfeitures coupled with the very low threshold of evidence sufficient to seize property without a warrant has led some lawmakers and legal critics to question forfeitures purpose.
Although forfeiture laws were initially designed to target those tied to distribution of illegal drugs and money-launderers, the laws are being applied far more broadly. Innocent parties such as business-owners, parents and spouses are caught up in federal forfeiture actions far too often.
Despite efforts at reform, forfeiture laws still leave these innocent parties at a disadvantage, especially when they lack competent legal counsel. Counsel must know how to navigate the procedural pitfalls of asset seizures and forfeitures and must know how to prove that the seized property was not involved in any illegal activity and that the client had no knowledge of it.
Sometimes, innocent people lacking competent counsel give up rather than take on the government.
Time Is Of The Essence When Facing Federal Forfeiture
Federal forfeiture laws leave people with little time to respond. There are tight deadlines for contesting a seizure. If you or your business is facing federal forfeiture of your property, you should promptly retain a knowledgeable Baltimore federal seizure attorney who can advise you of your rights and your options.