Civil forfeiture laws give the police the right to seize and sell the property of individuals accused of committing a crime. The laws in our state only allow law enforcement to take property associated with certain crimes, such as prostitution, money laundering, drug offenses, and gun crimes. Cash, vehicles, guns, real estate, and computers are a few of the types of property that can be seized. However, the police must file a civil forfeiture action in order to have the right to keep a person’s property.
What the Police Must Do Before Selling Your Property
Under the United States and Virginia constitutions, an individual’s property cannot be taken by the government without due process of law. Police are required to file a civil forfeiture action in court and obtain an order from the judge authoring them to keep and sell seized property. Here is how the process works:
- The prosecutor must file a Notice of Forfeiture in court. This is a civil action, not part of the criminal case against the accused.
- The prosecutor must have the Notice of Forfeiture served on the individual whose property is being seized. It can be delivered to him personally or taped on the door of his last known address.
- A person has a short window of time to file a response to the Notice of Forfeiture—less than 30 days.
- There will be a court hearing where a judge will decide whether the Commonwealth has the right to keep and sell the property.
- At this hearing, the prosecutor has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the property was used in or earned by criminal activity. This burden of proof is less than what has to be shown to convict someone of a crime, but is more than what has to be proven in a civil lawsuit.
What Should You Do If Law Enforcement Took Your Property?
If the police seized your property when they arrested you, you need to act quickly to defend yourself in the criminal case and to fight to get your property back. You will need the help of an experienced civil forfeiture lawyer as soon as possible. At The Wilson Law Firm, we can help you mount a strong defense to the criminal charges you face and fight to have your property returned. Call our Manassas office or start a live chat to schedule your free consultation to learn more about how we can help.