If you have been accused of a drug crime, terrorism or human trafficking in Pennsylvania, the nightmare of criminal prosecution may not be your only concern. The state may also have seized your money or property using a little-known legal power called asset forfeiture. If so, you face an uphill battle and need someone with experience on your side.
If you are facing forfeiture in the Pennsylvania area, call Brian Manchester, an experienced forfeiture defense attorney in Pennsylvania. Call today. It is important to start working on your defense right away.
State Crimes Leading to Forfeiture in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s criminal statutes allow police to seize property the law considers to be tools of the drug, terrorism or human trafficking trades. For drug-related property, this includes the drugs themselves; paraphernalia; the raw materials and equipment used to make or distribute the drugs; containers; aircraft, boats, cars and other vessels used to carry the drugs; research materials; money or other property intended for use in a violation of anti-drug laws; and guns intended for use in the furtherance of drug crimes. In a terrorism or human trafficking case, police may seize any assets of a person or group suspected of participating in the alleged crime.
Forfeiture Burden of Proof in Pennsylvania
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has one of the most permissive forfeiture laws in the United States. This means people accused of drug, terrorism or human trafficking crimes face a harder time getting their property back than they do proving their innocence in a criminal trial. The property owner must file a petition to reclaim the property within 30 days of receiving notice of forfeiture, or it will be sold at auction and the proceeds spent by the government. Because asset forfeiture is usually civil rather than criminal in nature, the state does not need to convict or even charge a person before seizing his property. The state must merely produce some evidence in court that there is a link between the property and an alleged drug crime, terrorist plot or human trafficking scheme. This evidence does not need to be as strong as the evidence required in criminal courts. In fact, it can be quite weak: The state must only establish this link by a preponderance of the evidence (more than half) rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard in criminal cases. Once such evidence has been presented, the person whose property has been seized carries the burden of proving he obtained the property lawfully and did not use it unlawfully.
Other Types of Forfeiture in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania also allows for civil forfeiture in some nuisance and illegal copying cases, as well as forfeiture of illegal proceeds in many criminal cases. For a repeat offender, using a vehicle to dump trash on public property or the private property of someone else can lead not only to nuisance charges but also to the civil seizure of the vehicle used to do the dumping. Accusations of illegally copying music can lead to civil forfeiture of recording equipment. Criminal forfeiture, meanwhile, requires conviction of the underlying crime — for example, a driver convicted of DUI could lose her car under some circumstances. All of these types of forfeiture can be extremely onerous to property owners. Sometimes prosecutors use civil forfeiture and its low burden of proof when they know they don’t have enough evidence to convict in criminal court. And since the proceeds of forfeiture typically go toward funding law enforcement activities — including the future seizure of property — there is a strong incentive for police and prosecutors to seize private property wherever possible.
If you or a loved one are in the Pennsylvania area and are facing forfeiture, call Brian Manchester, an experienced forfeiture defense lawyer in Pennsylvania. He can help you build the defense you need today.