Forfeiture and Seizure actions in Pennsylvania are proceedings against individuals whereby the government attempts to take private property based on the notion that the property was in some way connected to criminal activity. It is often the basis for taking homes, automobiles, and most often, cash from individuals accused of using the property in the illegal sale or distribution of drugs. These “quasi-criminal” actions have the potential to be abused as the standards for a forfeiture or seizure do not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It is often the responsibility of the person who has property taken to prove that the property was not involved in criminal conduct, or was he proceeds of criminal conduct. According to a recent study by citypaper.net, government offices make upwards of six million dollars a year solely on the seizure of property and are free to redistribute the property within the government.
In the typical forfeiture case, a person is accused of a crime and prior to the conclusion of the criminal matter, the government moves to seize and forfeit certain property. This property can be as innocuous, and otherwise completely legal, as an amount of cash in the possession of the accused. The results of the criminal action are irrelevant – one may be acquitted of criminal conduct, yet still have her or his property forfeit. The person against whom the action has the burden of showing that the property was not utilized in the illegal activity.
It is imperative, and often beneficial, to retain an experience attorney when dealing with a forfeiture or seizure matter. Particularly when coupled with the defense of a criminal action, certain rights available to Defendant’s in forfeiture cases are not available in criminal actions. Thus a strategy in a forfeiture case can be to utilize the civil process to gather relevant information for the criminal process. Coupled with the additional potential benefit of saving your property for yourself, defense of any forfeiture or seizure case is necessary at the earliest possible onset of the action.