How Federal Forfeiture Works in Maryland
Most people are unaware of how forfeiture laws work and don't realize that police can take their property without ever charging them with a crime. This article is intended to provide a brief overview of how federal forfeiture works in Maryland. Anyone who has had their property seized is encouraged to contact a knowledgeable Baltimore attorney for guidance.
Federal forfeiture laws enable law enforcement officers to seize assets such as cash, bank accounts, cars, and even real estate, if they have a belief the property is tied to a crime. Cash, real estate, cars and bank accounts are common forfeiture targets.
For some, forfeiture laws might be considered a fair way of off-setting the cost of law enforcement. However, the person or business whose property is seized may not be guilty of committing any crime or of misusing the property in any way.
Understanding Criminal and Civil Forfeiture
In Maryland, federal authorities generally use either criminal or civil forfeiture proceedings to seize property and other assets. While both forms of forfeiture yield revenue for the government, in some respects civil forfeiture has advantages for the federal government.
Criminal forfeiture is tied to the person who has allegedly committed a criminal act. Property cannot be forfeited until the owner of the property has been convicted of a crime, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt at trial or a guilty plea. However, property belonging to innocent third parties can get caught up in criminal forfeiture. Those third parties may have to wait for months and years for a case to come to trial and be resolved before being able to seek return of their property.
By contrast, civil forfeiture is tied to a specific asset. The premise behind civil forfeiture is that the property itself has been sullied by its connection to a criminal act. Whether the property has been purchased using proceeds from criminal activity or was used to commit the crime in question, the property itself is considered guilty because of its association with the illegal activity.
Civil forfeiture is different because it operates independently of a criminal prosecution.
Whether there is a criminal prosecution or not, police or federal agents can seize property and seek to forfeit it - which means keeping the property for good.
Law enforcement officers and federal prosecutors have a choice of which type of forfeiture to use. Civil forfeiture is popular because it is faster and has a lower burden of proof. Prosecutors only have to show that the property in question is tied to an illegal act by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that it only has to be more likely than not that the property was acquired by or in some way enabled the criminal activity.
Fighting a Forfeiture
Defending against forfeiture actions is extremely challenging and requires an experienced forfeiture defense attorney. A skilled attorney is indispensable in advising a client on how to contest seizures and forfeitures, including but not limited to filing an initial claim for return of property in a timely and legally sufficient manner.
If your assets or property has been seized, it is important to know that you may still be able to get it back. To learn more about your options, you should speak with a Baltimore lawyer with a strong background in forfeiture defense and recovery.