Civil Asset Forfeiture


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If assets, such as funds or property, are suspected to be connected to a crime, they can be seized by law enforcement, even if the suspect has not been convicted or charged with a crime. If you have had assets taken by police, it can be very difficult to get them back. The Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer at Fienman Defense can help you fight back against an illegitimate civil asset forfeiture.

To find out how you can prove that your property is not connected to a crime, call us at (215) 839-9529 now.

Seizure of Civil Assets in Pennsylvania

The civil asset forfeiture laws in Pennsylvania are problematic because the profits made from forfeited assets go directly into the budgets of local law enforcement agencies. While this may seem beneficial on the surface, it is an incentive that encourages police to seize funds and property even when it’s not absolutely necessary. This has become an epidemic in the state of Pennsylvania, as can be seen by the massive amounts of money that are being pulled in from forfeited assets. According to the Institute for Justice, Pennsylvania officers seized close to 10.9 million dollars in assets in 2013 alone. Items that are commonly seized include houses, cars, and large sums of cash.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), civil asset forfeiture was originally created to strip major criminals of their resources. However, it is commonly used to take advantage of innocent people who have no way to fight back. Under Pennsylvania law, those who have their assets seized are not afforded the constitutional protections that would be present in a criminal trial, such as the right to legal counsel. Since the cost of hiring a lawyer often exceeds the value of the forfeited assets, very few people end up fighting for their property. According to the United States Department of Justice, almost 90 percent of all seized assets never return home.

How to Get Your Property Back

When your assets are forfeited in Pennsylvania, you have 30 days to file a petition to contest this action. If you do not move quickly, your property will be sold at auction and the profits will be placed in the pockets of law enforcement agencies.

If you want to get your property back, you will be required to make your case in court. Hiring an experienced attorney is essential. A lawyer can help you acquire and present evidence that proves that your assets were not involved in criminal activity. They can also help you navigate the complex legal procedures that must be followed.

While being the victim of asset forfeiture can be devastating, the right legal tactic can reverse the damage that was done. For example, in 2009 the ACLU helped a Pennsylvania man retrieve funds that were seized during a traffic stop. After the man was stopped, he consented to a simple vehicle search. The police found marijuana, ecstasy, and over $30,000. The policed seized the cash, even though it was not connected to any criminal activity. In court, the man’s lawyers were able to prove this and the funds were returned. Had he not fought for his rights, he would have lost a small fortune.

Contact Fienman Defense Today

As long as police have a financial interest in civil asset forfeiture, they will continue to victimize innocent people. This practice is tragic, and it often disproportionately affects low-income people of color. If you recently had small items taken by police, such as a television or a stereo system, taking your case to court may not be worth the time or the money you will have to sacrifice. However, if you lost your house, car, or another essential piece of property, you may have no choice but to file a petition and hire a lawyer. In either case, an attorney can help you pressure law enforcement to return your property.

At Fienman Defense, Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Michael Fienman has spent years helping good people reclaim assets. Attorney Fienman can help you present evidence that completely disconnects your property from any suspected criminal activity.

If you would like to take back what is yours, call (215) 839-9529 for a free consultation.