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Criminal and Civil Forfeitures

Denver, Coloradocriminal and civil forfeiture attorney
Forfeiture is the government seizure of property connected to illegal activity. Law enforcement has asserted that it is a necessary and effective deterrent to drug crime, while opponents argue that existing procedural safeguards result in too many innocent parties having their property taken away, with little or no recourse for recovery. If your property or assets have been the subject of criminal or civil forfeiture, it is important to consult with an experienced forfeiture defense attorney to understand your rights and options. Jeralyn E. Merritt has more than 35 years of experience defending criminal and civil forfeiture cases.

Property subject to forfeiture
Government authority to seize property connected to illegal activity comes from federal statutes, as limited by those laws and the Constitution. Authorizing provisions of state and local statutes tend to be similar to federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court identified certain categories of property subject to forfeiture:

  • Contraband — property for which ownership itself is a crime (e.g., illegal drugs, smuggled goods)
  • Proceeds from illegal activity — property that results from, or can be traced back to, illegal activity
  • Tools or instrumentalities used in the commission of a crime — property used to commit a crime

Two forms of forfeiture: criminal and civil
The government can take title to private property under criminal or civil law.

Criminal forfeiture is a punitive measure taken against a defendant after a conviction, where the government seizes property as a part of the sentence. Because it is a criminal proceeding, a defendant is afforded the protections of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. While the crime has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, the forfeiture requires a lower burden of proof. The government only needs to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant obtained the property around the time of the crime and that it was unlikely it came from any other source. The burden then shifts to the defendant to prove this is not the case.

By contrast, civil forfeiture actions proceed against the property itself, which is the defendant in the case, rather than the owner. A criminal charge or conviction is not necessary before the government can seize. A large majority of the forfeitures pursued by the government are civil.

Call an experienced attorney today if your property has been forfeited.
Whether your property has been the subject of a criminal or a civil forfeiture, defenses to the government’s action exist, and there are ways to recover your property under the law. Consult with a knowledgeable forfeiture defense attorney today.

Call the Law Office of Jeralyn E. Merritt at 303-837-1837 today to schedule a consultation and discuss what options are available to you, or contact the firm online.