Most people in the United States know very little, if anything at all, about civil forfeiture laws – until they are subject to them. If you do suddenly find yourself facing forfeiture of your property you will likely be shocked at how most civil forfeiture laws operate and what they allow the government to do. So what is forfeiture and what should you do if you find yourself facing a forfeiture action?
Originally, civil forfeiture laws were enacted by the British during the 17th century as a means to punish violators of the laws requiring ships exporting and importing from British ports to fly under the British flag. Because it was almost impossible to capture the actual sailors, laws were enacted that allowed the government to forfeit the ships and/or cargo of violators. The U.S used the same concept to go after customs violators. In essence, these early forfeiture laws allowed the government to seize the property of innocent property owners because it was the only means of punishing violators and the only way to compensate the injured party, in this case the government. Those early forfeiture laws eventually spawned the state and federal forfeiture laws in existence today.
Although forfeiture is often tied to a criminal investigation and/or arrest, forfeiture is a civil action. Forfeiture permits the government (state or federal) to seize property or assets that allegedly were used in a criminal enterprise or that were purchased with the proceeds from a criminal enterprise. Federal forfeiture laws have been used frequently over the past several decades in conjunction with the “War on Drugs” to seize billions of dollars’ worth of property allegedly tied to drug trafficking. What makes fighting a forfeiture case so difficult is that the federal, and almost all state, forfeiture laws only require the government to prove the criminal connection “beyond a preponderance of the evidence.” Nebraska is one of only two states that use the significantly higher “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard for forfeiture lawsuits. Not surprisingly, Nebraska forfeits considerably less property than other states as a result.
If your property is seized for forfeiture by the state or federal government you are required to be notified of the intent to forfeit the property. You can contest the forfeiture; however, you must act quickly to protect your rights. Forfeiture laws vary by state but most allow the forfeiture process to move rather fast. Failing to file an Answer to a Petition to Forfeit will result in a default judgment for forfeiture and the permanent loss of your property.
If you have been served with a notice indicating the State of Nebraska or the United States government intends to forfeit our property, contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.