The laws involving asset forfeiture have changed in recent years at both the state and federal level. Generally, in the past, law enforcement could permanently confiscate property without a conviction if they suspected that money came from illegal activities like selling drugs. Still, the officers could also seize property like a motor vehicle or even a home. Law enforcement claimed that it was both a deterrent for criminal activities and a way to keep the cost of law enforcement down.
However, there have been many critics of these so-called police-for-profit forfeitures. Notably, officers seemed to target lower-income citizens or those less willing to take legal action to reclaim their possessions because it was not worth it to go to court to challenge the seizure.
Forfeiture in Colorado
The police may seize the car or property of those arrested on felony charges for drugs or DUI. This can happen at the time of the arrest or at a later date. The property owner can fight the forfeiture by requesting an adversarial preliminary hearing where the defendant asks the court to determine if there was probable cause for the arrest and charges. The goals for doing this include:
- Raising the government’s burden of proof
- To make sure that seized property was involved in a crime
- To make sure the seizure is appropriate for the charges involved
The state reformed civil forfeiture most recently in 2017, after securing forfeitures of about $1 million annually before that. Nevertheless, the totals have gone up since to $3.3 million in proceeds in 2019. Notable changes include that it now requires seizing agencies to biannual reports of seizures and the proceeds’ use. It also prohibits receiving forfeiture proceeds from the federal government unless the value is more than $50,000, and the federal government forfeiture proceedings relate to a filed criminal case.
Legal help can fight forfeitures
This unjust loss of assets is one more reason why it is essential for those facing charges to get the legal help they need. An experienced criminal defense attorney can protect their client’s rights by getting the charges dismissed or ensuring that the forfeitures and punishments are appropriate to the charges.