What is Civil Asset Forfeiture from a Virginia Lawyer

money

We represent clients in civil forfeiture matters in federal and Virginia state courts.  Civil forfeiture, or civil asset forfeiture, occurs when law enforcement seizes an asset and seeks to forfeit it to the government for suspicion of being the proceeds of or substantially connected to criminal activity.  Civil forfeiture can occur even though no criminal charges are ever brought against the possessor or true owner of the asset. Read more about civil asset forfeiture from our Virginia lawyers.

What Property Can be Fortfeited?

Assets sought to be forfeited can include cash, bank account deposits, vehicles, and real property. Controversially, a significant portion of forfeited assets go to fund local prosecutors and law enforcement. Critics of civil forfeiture believe this gives law enforcement an improper incentive to seek forfeiture of assets.

What Happens During a Civil Forfeiture Process?

When an asset is seized by law enforcement, the possessor or owner of the property will receive a notice of seizure and instructions on how to make a claim for the return of the property.  On occasion, the true owner or a person with an interest in the asset does not receive notice, which can require the person to intervene in the forfeiture litigation to assert a right to the asset.

Time Limits on Property Seizures in Virginia

There are strict time limits by when a property owner must assert his or her interest in seized property to avoid permanent forfeiture to the government. In Virginia, general procedures governing civil forfeiture actions are set forth in Chapter 22.1 of the Virginia Code (§ 19.2-386.1 et seq.).

General rules for civil forfeiture in federal matters are set forth in the U.S. Code (see 18 U.S. Code §§ 981, 983-985). The federal and state rules of civil procedure also in apply in asset forfeiture matters.

Burden of Proof for Civil Asset Forfeiture

In general, the government has the burden of proof by a preponderance of evidence to establish an asset is the proceeds of or substantially connected to criminal activity. Defenses to civil forfeiture can include the government failing to meet its burden of proof, the amount sought to be forfeited is excessive and inequitable in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause, and the innocent owner defense.

Examples of Our Civil Forfeiture Cases Include:

  • Ongoing representation of clients in a major federal forfeiture matter involving more than $200,000,000 held in foreign accounts currently frozen by the federal government.
  • Defense of airport seizures of cash by law enforcement. In a recent matter (2020) involving a significant amount of cash seized by DEA agents at Dulles Airport, upon providing information to the Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia that the money was legally the client’s, the government returned the entirety of the seizure.
  • Defense of small business owners who had retirement accounts seized by local law enforcement for being purportedly related to money laundering and/or used in relation to illegal drug sales. For certain accounts, upon establishing that the money was unrelated to any criminal activity, the firm obtained from a Virginia circuit court a rare award of attorney’s fees due to the government’s improper seizure of the accounts.
  • Representation of a grocery store accused of selling prescription drugs over the counter, which resulted in the search and seizure of more than $100,000 in cash from the business. A substantial amount of the cash was recent money taken in from customers sending money by wire during holiday season. After the firm filed motions in the case, the Fairfax Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney agreed to return large majority of money.

Civil Asset Forfeiture Virginia Lawyer

For a consultation on a civil forfeiture matter, please contact us at (703) 468-8557 and/or kclaw@kingcampbell.com for help in Alexandria, Lessburg or Northern Virginia.

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