Criminal Forfeiture in Indiana

April 18, 2014

By Keffer Hirschauer LLP

Can the government really seize my property and keep it? It is possible, yes.

Indiana law recognizes the ability of the State to seize property it maintains is traceable as proceeds of a violation of a criminal statute pursuant to Indiana Code Section 34-24-1-1 et seq. While the forfeiture statutes were initially designed for large scale organized crime operations and criminal drug rings, they have been increasingly employed by the State and law enforcement for lower level and more commonly committed crimes. Government agencies use the proceeds of criminal forfeitures to supplement their budgets. While a forfeiture action is a civil proceeding filed in a civil court, it often tracks with a criminal prosecution which is litigated in a criminal court. It is not required that the State allege the property seized or sought to be forfeited belonged to or be owned by the alleged defendant. For example, if an alleged defendant was driving his mother’s vehicle and had property inside that vehicle during the alleged commission of crime, it is possible for the State to argue that the vehicle or the contents are “proceeds” of a violation of a criminal statute.

While the State can bring and allege a criminal forfeiture action in certain circumstances, there are various statutory and constitutional arguments that can be used to challenge that forfeiture. For example, if the government seized a brand new Ferrari for a misdemeanor possession of marijuana charge, it would seem that their forfeiture in that case would be grossly disproportionate to government’s damage or expenses in prosecution or the offense or actions that was allegedly committed. In addition, that would likely constitute an excessive fine for that crime. The law also considers the rights of an “innocent owner” when addressing a forfeiture action and determining who exactly owned the property.

Contact Keffer Hirschauer LLP today if you have questions or believe your property was wrongfully seized or forfeited. We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law and its application to their individualized case. Act now and contact us today at (317) 857-0160.