Pennsylvania authorities have plenty of power to enforce the law: They can arrest alleged offenders, put them on trial and punish them by putting them in jail or prison, among other penalties. But prosecutors and police in this state have another powerful tool, one they like to use. It’s called asset forfeiture, and it allows the state to take your property, your car, your money, even your home without ever convicting you of a crime. If you are facing asset forfeiture, it is essential that you obtain experienced representation now, as deadlines for responding are short, seized money and property is disposed of quickly, and the system is designed to heavily favor the state.
If you are facing asset forfeiture in the Pennsylvania area, call Brian Manchester, an experienced asset forfeiture defense attorney in Pennsylvania. Call today. It is important to start working on your defense right away.
When Asset Forfeiture Is Applied in Pennsylvania
Most Pennsylvania asset forfeitures are civil rather than criminal in nature. The most commonly used civil asset forfeiture law applies to people with alleged ties to the drug trade. This can include the substances themselves, paraphernalia, materials and equipment used to make drugs, containers, research materials, any vehicles used to transport drugs, and money, guns or any other property with a connection to drug trafficking. Property or money with a link to terrorism or human trafficking crimes can also be seized in civil court. In some nuisance cases, vehicles used to dump trash illegally can be forfeited, as can electronic recording devices used to illegally copy music. Criminal forfeiture is also common, though it is much easier for prosecutors to meet succeed in a civil forfeiture than in a criminal forfeiture.
Asset Forfeiture and the Burden of Proof in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s asset forfeiture laws are unfortunately some of the most permissive in the nation, which makes it very difficult for those who have lost their property to reclaim it — even more difficult than it would be to successfully fight criminal charges in court. Within 30 days of receiving notice of asset forfeiture by police, the property owner must file a petition seeking to get the property back. If she fails, the property will be sold at auction and the proceeds spent. Once a petition is filed, prosecutors bear the initial burden of producing evidence that the seized property is in some way linked to an alleged crime that calls for forfeiture, but that is all they must establish — not that the property owner committed a crime or that the property was used in a crime. And prosecutors only have to establish this often tenuous link by a preponderance of the evidence (more than half), not beyond a reasonable doubt as required in criminal court. After they have done so, property owners bear the burden of proving they obtained the property lawfully and did not use it unlawfully.
Criminal Asset Forfeiture in Pennsylvania
Unlike civil forfeiture, criminal asset forfeiture requires that a property owner be convicted of the underlying crime. For example, some drivers convicted of DUI in Pennsylvania lose their cars. Whatever the type of asset forfeiture, seizure of private property by law enforcement is extremely onerous to property owners. In a flagrant end run around civil rights, civil asset forfeiture is sometimes used to punish suspected criminals when prosecutors know they don’t have enough evidence to convict in court. Since the assets seized usually go back into the coffers of law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies, there is strong incentive for them to seize private assets whenever possible.
If you or a loved one are in the Pennsylvania area and are facing asset forfeiture, call Brian Manchester, an experienced asset forfeiture defense lawyer in Pennsylvania. He can help you build the defense you need today.