Can my vehicle be seized if I was charged with possession of a controlled substance
It may be legal in some cases for law enforcement officials to seize property that they believe has been involved in criminal activity. Additionally, it may not matter if you are actually charged or convicted of a crime to have your car, home, money, or valuables taken by police.
Although most civil forfeiture laws were originally created to allow for the seizure of the assets and ill-gotten gains of criminals, such as those involved in organized crime, law enforcement now sometimes uses the laws as a means to generate revenue, and many of its targets are innocent members of the public.
When can the police take my property?
Recently on our legal forum a user asked, "Can my vehicle be seized if I was charged with possession of a controlled substance less than a gram?" There are four main reasons the police will have the right to take your property: for safekeeping, forfeiture, for evidence in a criminal case, or if the property is considered contraband.
- Safekeeping - If you have been arrested and taken into police custody the police may take certain property such as money and jewelry and keep it safe until you are released.
- Forfeiture of property - If the police believe your property was involved or used to commit a crime they can keep your property. Property may be kept permanently and sold if they can prove it was unlawfully gained or used. Common property which is seized includes cars, money, merchandise, tools and equipment.
- Evidence - If you have been arrested and charged with a crime the police may temporarily confiscate certain types of property which can be held as evidence in your case until the end of the criminal case, including all appeals.
- Contraband - Any asset which is held illegally may be confiscated and kept. For instance, if you have drugs, money, fake credit cards, or unlicensed weapons the police may confiscate them and keep them. Contraband may be kept by the police or destroyed at the conclusion of your criminal court case.
Innocence and getting your property back
Unfortunately, if your property has been taken and you are found innocent of a particular crime the burden is generally on you to prove you were innocent before you will have your property returned. For instance, you may have to prove the following:
- You were not involved in criminal activity.
- You did not know that your property was being used to facilitate the commission of a crime and/or you took all necessary steps to stop the illegal use.
Getting your car back
The process to get your car back will depend on whether the seizure was federal, state or local. It's time to get a copy of your state's forfeiture statutes and read them to see how the procedures differ in your state.
Keep in mind if you do not challenge the forfeiture within a specified time period you may lose your right to do so. It's important to understand not only state forfeiture laws but also federal laws. In some cases the police will do an end run around good state laws and seize property under federal forfeiture law that could not be seized under applicable state forfeiture laws. In this case the local law enforcement groups may share some of the proceeds from the sale of certain assets with other federal groups.
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