Posted by: Wiley Lavender on Thursday, October 17, 2019
What is civil forfeiture?
Imagine that you are enjoying a leisurely drive in your expensive car. Suddenly, the police pull you over and arrest you. Next, the police take you into custody and transport you to the nearest police station where you are formally processed. They impound your car and tow it away. You need to hire a criminal lawyer. He, or she, has obtained your release from police custody and is preparing your case for trial. In the meantime, you go to get your car at the police impound yard. It turns out that the prosecutor has seized your car and will not released it to you. This is a bad predicament, isn't it? It gets worse. The prosecutor also informs you that the car is being forfeited. All this is going on while your criminal case is pending.
Your arrest subjects you to a civil forfeiture. To clarify, and using this scenario, this legal proceeding is different from the criminal prosecution. As such, civil forfeiture proceedings are in civil court, not in criminal court.
Law enforcement uses civil forfeiture as a powerful tool. FYI - another name for civil forfeiture is civil asset forfeiture. This is where the government, in the course of a criminal prosecution, attempts to take property owned by a criminal defendant. The government obtains ownership of that property. In New Jersey, property subject to civil forfeiture ranges from guns, money, motor vehicles, buildings and premises.
Under New Jersey law, the seized property is now owned by the entity funding the prosecution once the property has been ruled to have been forfeited. The criminal defendant has lost ownership of property that was once theirs.
Under New Jersey law the fact that a prosecution involving seized property terminates without a conviction does not preclude forfeiture proceedings against the property. In other words, you can still lose your property seized by the prosecutor even when found not guilty. It can include your home and any funds that have been seized by the prosecutor.
A person needs an attorney experienced in civil litigation when faced with a civil forfeiture. Therefore, the selection of skilled civil counsel is crucial. Contact us for more information or if you need help.