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Indianapolis Asset Forfeiture Lawyer
The seizure of a private citizen’s property can happen even if you’re not charged with a crime. If you’re facing forfeiture proceedings after law enforcement has seized your property, you need help from an asset forfeiture attorney who is experienced in Indiana forfeiture law and proceedings. You will find that attorney at Keffer Hirschauer LLP.
Why You Need a Keffer Hirschauer LLP Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Forfeiture is known by many names—criminal forfeiture, civil forfeiture, or just asset forfeiture—but they all refer to the same practice in which law enforcement seizes and often keeps your property, even if it only suspects the property is related to a crime. Given the uphill battle and confusing legal framework under federal and Indiana forfeiture law, working with an experienced asset forfeiture attorney is critical.
The asset forfeiture attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP have deep experience in and understand asset forfeiture proceedings in both federal and state court. Also known as skilled and experienced criminal defense attorneys, they provide peerless representation in the fight for the rightful return of your property from overreaching law enforcement. Give us a call at (317) 857-0160!
What Is Asset Forfeiture?
Both federal law and Indiana state law allow law enforcement to seize an individual’s property when the police suspect it is related to past, current, or intended future criminal activity. Law enforcement does not need proof that a crime has actually been committed, and the property owner doesn’t even have to be a suspect. Law enforcement may seek forfeiture of property it merely suspects to be any of the following:
- The proceeds of a crime
- The product of a crime
- Property commingled with the proceeds or product of a crime
If the State succeeds in a forfeiture case, it takes ownership of the property, and no compensation is due to the owner.
What Assets Can Be Seized in Forfeiture Cases?
Federal and state law enforcement agencies identify property they believe to be subject to forfeiture in a variety of ways and at various stages in the course of an investigation. They commonly seize property found in the following scenarios:
- In the course of a criminal investigation
- During the execution of a search warrant in a related or an unrelated case
- During a lawful arrest
- In the course of a criminal prosecution
- In premises searches permitted by businesses or delivery services
For example, law enforcement may use dogs to search a home, an area, or a delivery service for contraband. When a search dog alerts, law enforcement may confiscate the item or package that triggered the dog’s alert with forfeiture proceedings to follow.
Law enforcement is supposed to give notice of the property of the seizure to allow the owner to contest the taking. But if the owner is not easily identifiable, the seizure remains uncontested, and the seized property is a windfall to the government.
Any type of property is subject to forfeiture. Cash and cars lead the list of the type of property identified in forfeiture proceedings. Other types of property fall to a distant third place in the amount subject to forfeiture proceedings, but they include any type of personal property or real property such as your house, your boat, or your financial accounts.
How Does Asset Forfeiture Work?
Forfeiture cases begin with the seizure of property. The subsequent forfeiture action starts in one of three ways:
- The local prosecutor files an action on behalf of the State of Indiana pursuant to Indiana Code § 34-24-1-1
- The US Department of Justice or a federal law enforcement agency files an action pursuant to one of the federal forfeiture laws
- In a combined action, the State of Indiana initially seizes property but then turns it over to federal authorities for federal forfeiture proceedings
Indiana Forfeiture Law
Indiana’s forfeiture law is a civil proceeding, not a criminal case, even though it is based on the belief that the property is related to criminal activity. A forfeiture case is completely independent of a criminal case. In fact, criminal charges may never be filed.
After law enforcement seizes property pursuant Indiana Code § 34-24-1-1, the local prosecutor files a forfeiture action, claiming the state’s right to keep the property. The State must begin forfeiture proceedings within 180 days of the seizure or within 30 days of receiving notice from someone claiming a right to or title to the property.
If the State fails to file a forfeiture action within 30 days after receiving such notice from the rightful owner, the owner may file an action for the return of the property, to foreclose the State’s interest in the property, or for other appropriate relief. If the State fails to file a forfeiture action within 180 days where no one has given notice of a claim to the property, the State must return the property to the rightful owner.
The State has a relatively low hurdle to prove its right to keep the seized property—a lower hurdle than proving that a crime has been committed. While the State must prove criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt, its burden of proof in a forfeiture proceeding is only a preponderance of the evidence—a level many equate with showing that the property seized is more likely than not related to a criminal investigation.
Generally, property seized under Indiana forfeiture law is not subject to replevin, meaning the state keeps the property while the forfeiture case is underway. Only if the property owner contesting forfeiture prevails in the forfeiture case will the seized property be returned. If the State proves that the property is sufficiently related to a crime, then title to the property transfers to the Indiana Treasurer of State without compensation to anyone who claimed ownership of or interest in the property.
Federal Forfeiture Proceedings
Forfeiture proceedings that take place in federal court arise in one of two ways: following seizure of property by federal law enforcement or following seizure of property by state law enforcement, which then turns the property over to a federal agency for forfeiture proceedings. In the latter case, state law enforcement seizes the property pursuant to Indiana law but then turns the property over to the appropriate federal authority pursuant to Indiana Code § 35-33-5-5(j), the turnover law in Indiana, for federal forfeiture proceedings.
Federal law provides for three types of forfeiture proceedings:
- Criminal forfeiture
- Civil forfeiture
- Administrative forfeiture
Criminal forfeiture proceedings are part of a criminal prosecution of a defendant. The case is filed against both the defendant (in personam). If a jury finds in favor of the government, then the court issues a forfeiture order.
When criminal forfeiture proceedings are based on certain types of offenses or criminal statutes, an additional hearing allows third parties an opportunity to show that they are rightful owners of the property. These hearings take place in cases involving offenses under the following:
- Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO)
- Controlled Substances Act (CSA)
- Obscenity laws
- Money laundering offenses
Federal law also provides for civil forfeiture proceedings, but these cases are filed against the property as in rem proceedings. These cases may not have a related criminal proceeding.
Administration forfeiture proceedings are also in rem actions filed against the property seized. The Tariff Act of 1930, 19 USC § 1607 authorizes the federal authority that seized the property to assert ownership over it without the need for court proceedings. Only certain kinds of property are subject to administrative forfeiture:
- Merchandise that cannot be imported
- Any form of transportation used to import, transport, or store a controlled substance
- Money or monetary instruments
- Any property valued at $500,000 or less
What You Need to Know about Forfeiture Proceedings
Forfeiture proceedings can result in the deprivation of your property even if you are wholly unconnected to criminal activity. You may be deprived of property in a forfeiture proceeding even if a crime has not yet been committed, you are not suspected of a crime, and no one is ever convicted of a crime related to the property. Property is subject to forfeiture even if the owner is wholly unconnected with any crime or alleged criminal activity.
Significantly, you are not entitled to constitutional criminal protections in a forfeiture action. This means, for example, that you do not have the Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate yourself and you are not entitled to compensation if the State prevails in the forfeiture case.
Nor do you have to be the suspected perpetrator of the crime related to the property seized. In other words, a car used in a crime, cash from the sale of stolen property, and bank account in which funds from a crime were deposited would all be subject to forfeiture—regardless of who owned them.
How to Fight Civil Forfeiture
An enormous amount of private property falls prey to seizure by federal and state authorities each year. Surprisingly, in a vast majority of cases, the forfeiture proceedings are uncontested—the owners do not challenge the seizure of their property. Protecting your right to property subject to federal or state forfeiture proceedings requires a thorough understanding of the relevant forfeiture statutes and proceedings.
An Indianapolis asset forfeiture attorney at Keffer Hirschauer LLP will make sure you receive the best protection possible in forfeiture proceedings and any related criminal proceedings anywhere in the Hoosier State. For a free consultation, contact Keffer Hirschauer LLP by calling (317) 857-0160 or by completing our online contact form.
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