A friend, who knows that at Regan Law PLC, we are always interested in the quirky application of the law, which from time to time can snag unsuspecting citizens, sent me a link to an article in The New Yorker written by Sarah Stillman titled “Taken”. which describes in great detail civil forfeiture. The article addresses how easily Americans can be stripped of their valuables, cash, cars and even their homes without formal charges of any sort.
The article by Ms. Stillman describes in great detail the cash-for-freedom scheme used, apparently with great pride in Tenaha, a town near the Texas-Louisiana border. Ms. Stallman describes well the tale of a Texas woman, who in 2007 set out to visit her father in the company of her boyfriend and small children. The vacation included the purchase of a used vehicle along the way and a chance to walk among the local wildflower trails, instead they found themselves pulled over by the local cops, threatened to have their children taken away and the possibility of facing serious charges, alternatively, according to Ms. Sallman, “the couple could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road.”
The article does a good job of describing the principle behind civil forfeiture and why it could be appealing to authorities as it enables them to confiscate cash or property obtained by possible law violators through illicit means. In many states, the proceeds of these civil asset forfeitures are funneled directly into the fight against crime. The author gives some examples: In Tulsa, Oklahoma, cops drive a Cadillac Escalade stenciled with the words “This Used to Be a Drug Dealer’s Car, Now It’s ours!” In Monroe, North Carolina, police recently proposed using forty-four thousand dollars in confiscated drug money to buy a surveillance drone, which might be deployed to catch, fleeing suspects, conduct rescue missions, and, perhaps, seize more drug money. Hundreds of state and federal laws authorize civil forfeiture for cockfighting, drag racing, basement gambling, endangered-fish poaching, securities fraud, and countless other misdeeds.
In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient for civil forfeiture. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.
One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. (Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson’s forfeiture was slugged State of Texas v. $6,037.) “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading civil forfeiture expert, observes. A piece of property does not share the rights of a person. There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence. Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve.
As an attorney in practice for Over 38 years, I have defended my fair share of civil forfeiture cases. Do not be victimized by this type of situation, you do have recourse. Please call us, we are here to help.
About Martin E. Regan, Jr.
Year after year, Martin E. Regan Jr., the firm’s senior partner, has dedicated tireless efforts on behalf of the accused and produce wins for clients that a less determined advocate would have thought hopeless. Martin E. Regan Jr.’s ability to tackle and win tough criminal cases has resulted in verdicts of acquittal in many highly publicized trials.