When you are charged with a drug crime, it may seem like the prosecutors will stop at nothing to convict you and make sure you receive a harsh sentence – even if you are charged with minor or non-violent drug crimes.
Most of the time, prosecutors and law enforcement officers use completely legal tactics. On rare occasions, they don’t.
And then there are those tactics that straddle the line. One of the most controversial is forfeiture.
What Is Forfeiture?
Forfeiture laws were designed with the intention of cracking down on crime and taking away the resources of large-scale crime rings. Essentially, law enforcement officers are allowed to take assets (which can include cars, homes, and money) that are suspected to be involved in crimes.
That’s right – property and assets can be suspected of crimes just like people can. If, for example, law enforcement officials believe that a car has been used by criminals to transport large amounts of drugs, they have the right to deprive the owners of the car.
But get this: you do not have to be charged or arrested for forfeiture laws to apply. With civil forfeiture, all law enforcement needs is probable cause to be able to take your property.
The Problem with Civil Forfeiture
These laws (which are supported by numerous Supreme Court decisions) can easily be abused. And if property is shared amongst a family, they can negatively impact the loved ones of those who have been charged or are suspected of committing crimes. In other words, forfeiture laws can punish your family for things that you are suspected to have done.
For example, say police officers pull you over for a traffic violation while you are driving your mother’s car. After talking with you, the officers find 15 to 100 grams of heroin. Naturally, you are arrested for a drug crime.
But what you may not realize is that your mother’s car will likely be impounded throughout your trial. Your mother was never charged or suspected of any crime, but now she is without a car because it was under her name.
That example is the real-life story of 72-year old Willie Mae Swansey. She did not give her son permission to take her car on the date that he was arrested, but was deprived of it nonetheless. She has appeared in court nine times, even after her son had been convicted and placed under house arrest, but has consistently been denied the right to get her car back. At some point, Swansey’s car may even be sold.
When law enforcement officers sell forfeited assets, they are allowed to keep the proceeds. The Chicago Police Department alone has racked up millions of dollars in forfeited assets – the money goes to continuing these proceedings. Illinois has been ranked as being one of the worst abusers of civil forfeiture in the nation.
How a Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help You and Your Family
If you have been charged with a crime and law enforcement took your property or that of a loved one in order to investigate those crimes, the best course of action you can take is to prove your innocence (as well as the innocence of the property that was seized).
Hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer will increase your chances of getting your charges dropped. For many, a private criminal lawyer sounds expensive, but think of it as an investment. After all, the cost of a lawyer may more than balance out the cost of not having your car, home, or other property that was seized under civil or criminal asset forfeiture.
Want to learn more about how we can help you and your family? Reach out to us today to talk about your case and how we can help your family.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.