The consequences of a conviction for drug offenses can be quite severe. While many states are decriminalizing the possession of marijuana in small amounts, the penalties for other drug crimes, such as trafficking or distribution, often include extended time behind bars and substantial fines. The severity of the penalties may depend on many things, such as the amount and kind of drug in question and whether state or federal authorities are prosecuting the case.
Perhaps one of the most controversial elements of drug enforcement is the practice of civil asset forfeiture. Asset forfeiture occurs when law enforcement authorities confiscate any possessions they believe you may have used or gained through illegal activities, including the drug trade. If authorities have seized items they claim are related to criminal activity, you have a limited time to take steps to reclaim them. The process is difficult, and you would be wise to seek legal assistance.
What police may take and why
If police believe you used your vehicle to transport drugs, they may confiscate your vehicle permanently. In the same way, if you have weapons in your home, they can assume you used those weapons during the commission of criminal drug transactions, and they can legally seize them. Any cash that appears to be profit from a drug trade, valuables, cellphones, electronics or even your home can be fair game for civil asset forfeiture. There are no limits.
The confiscation of assets from those suspected of committing crimes is supposedly a method of breaking down the criminal organizations while providing additional funding to law enforcement agencies. Police may use the proceeds of items they confiscate to improve their own departments or fund special programs. While this may sound like a winning combination, the following factors may concern you:
- Even if authorities do not charge you, the charges against you are dropped or a court finds you not guilty, your confiscated assets remain the property of the police.
- To reclaim your property, you may have to go through a lengthy legal process in which you must meet complex deadlines and prove there is no link between the property and a criminal act.
- Law enforcement agencies generally sell forfeited assets and keep the money.
- While some states require police to inventory and track items they confiscate, others have no reporting requirements.
- Recent federal programs allow states to share the profits from their asset seizures with the government to avoid state forfeiture regulations.
Illinois is trying to reform its laws for asset forfeiture, but there is still too much room for unlimited and unwarranted seizure of your property. If you are facing this issue, you may benefit from an aggressive criminal defense strategy.