Civil forfeiture: When an arrest leads to property seizure
A New Jersey arrest can be more than a criminal proceeding if some of your property was seized in a raid and alleged to be contraband.
Illegally owned weapons, drugs or stolen property are considered to be prima facie contraband. You won’t be getting any of that back and no forfeiture complaints must be filed by authorities in the seizure.
However, there is another type called derivative contraband where perfectly legal items can be seized if authorities believe they were purchased with or derived from funds generated by illegal acts. You can lose wads of cash, vehicles, even homes under these type of seizures.
After seizing your allegedly derivative contraband, you must be served with a forfeiture complaint naming you as the owner or alleging you have an interest in it. The state issues the complaint and seeks to retain possession of the seized item(s).
While the state has 90 days to serve you with the forfeiture complaint, after being served, you only have 35 days to file your answer and copy the prosecutor with it. If 90 days passes without service and you are able to show the court you experienced harm or prejudice due to the delay, the complaint could be dismissed.
Otherwise, you will have a court date where you can present witness testimony and evidence indicating that your seized property:
— Was not proceeds from criminal acts
— Was never intended for or used as part of illegal activities
— Wasn’t an integral element of criminal activities
The state bears the burden of proof in civil forfeiture cases. Authorities must prove some underlying criminal activity was carried out or intended to be carried out, as well as establish that a “direct causal relationship” exists between your seized property and the criminal violation. Even when prosecutors establish a direct link, evidence you provide can prove a portion of the seized property or money was legally obtained and exempt from seizure.
Some people can prove they were “innocent owners” who had no knowledge of or role in criminal acts resulting in the seizure. Their property cannot legally be seized.
Discuss your property seizure with your defense attorney to determine your best defense.
Source: Legal Services of New Jersey, “Your Rights in Civil Forfeiture Proceedings” accessed Mar. 06, 2015
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