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What does asset forfeiture mean for defendants?

Facing criminal charges comes with a myriad of consequences you have to worry about, from fines and imprisonment to loss of employment and perhaps even family. Defending against these potential effects requires time, money and effort.

Unfortunately, another penalty you may experience is asset forfeiture. Losing access to funds and property not only can hurt your ability to pay for legal representation but can also harm the personal life of you and your family. Here is what you need to know about this legal action against you.

What is asset forfeiture?

When assets come from, contribute to or are involved in illegal activity (usually white-collar crimes), the government will seize them to disrupt or end the crime, punish the offender and compensate victims. The government has three different approaches it can take:

  • Civil: This type of forfeiture is against criminal property and not a person, therefore not requiring the presence of a criminal conviction. The owner of the property can contest the forfeiture, which will go to trial.
  • Criminal: This type of seizure is part of the prosecution process for someone facing criminal charges. The person also has the right to dispute the asset seizure.
  • Administrative: This type is only applicable when no one fights for the assets in question.

From a judicial point of view, such actions may seem fair, but in reality, this is not always true. For example, the government may take more assets away, including legal property, than fit the charges. Note that property can include intangibles such as rights and privileges.

What to do when asset forfeiture happens

If you have lost your assets, you need to file an appeal as soon as possible. It is also best to have a criminal defense attorney who has experience with asset forfeiture. The government has to connect the assets to crime against a specific statute, so a defense may focus on how that connection does not exist so you can retain the property.

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