San Diego Criminal Defense

101 W. Broadway, Suite 1770 | San Diego, CA 92101

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San Diego Criminal Lawyer

San Diego Asset Forfeiture Lawyer 

Practice Areas

California Asset Forfeiture Laws  

Explained by a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney 


Asset Forfeiture is the Government's most powerful weapon against a citizen. The government seizes property that they suspect either came from a crime, or was used to commit a crime, and institutes a civil proceeding against that property. They will often seize cash, cars, and homes, depriving citizens of the means to hire an attorney - which is important because you are not entitled to an attorney by law in an asset forfeiture proceeding because it is a "civil proceeding" - and does not require a criminal conviction.  As a result of this draconian practice, citizens are left struggling to find money to pay a lawyer to defend them in their civil asset forfeiture suit.  


As an example of this rule: the government can seize a car that is jointly-owned by a husband and wife because the wife used the vehicle to steal groceries.  Under the Supreme Court case Bennis v. Michigan, (1996) 516 U.S. 442, 446, the court reasoned "[A] long and unbroken line of cases holds that an owner's interest in property may be forfeited by reason of the use to which the property is put even though the owner did not know that it was to be put to such use."


You need to act quickly.  If you have personal notice that your property was seized, you have only 30 days to file a claim.  If you do not file a claim within thirty days, you lose any claim to recover property that was seized.  

Asset Forfeiture is the Government's most powerful weapon in the "war on crime." Asset Forfeiture laws allow the Government to seize a persons' property, without compensation, because they suspect that the property was obtained from the profits of criminal activity, or the property was used in the commission of a crime. In San Diego, medical mariuana shops have been summarily shut-down because the United States Attorney sent letters to landlords of medical marijuana co-ops and threatened to seize their property under Asset Forfeiture Laws.  



What is Asset Forfeiture?

Asset Forfeiture and California Drug Laws

Nearly every type of property imaginable may be seized under California Health & Safety Code Section 11000 et seq.  This includes any raw materials or equipment that were used or intended for use in the manufacturing, distribution, or transportation of a controlled substance. Most commonly, the police will seize cash, and claim that a large amount of cash is "suspicous" and "suggests illegal activity."  You will then need to fight them in court to have your cash returned.  



Asset Forfeiture Organized Crime Laws

Under the California Control of Profits of Organized Crime Act (California Penal Code 186.1 PC et seq.), asset forfeiture is only possible if there has been a criminal conviction.  The particular conviction must be for a pattern of criminal profiteering activity. That means that the conviction must be based on two or more criminal acts that have similar characteristics and are not isolated events, and committed for financial gain.  



How To Defend Against Asset Forfeiture?

In order to seize the property, the Government must sue the property, not the person. A person does not even have to be accused of a crime, or even found guilty of a crime for this to happen. The legal proceeding the Government is initiating is a civil proceeding, not a criminal proceeding. The best way to defend against a Civil Asset Forfeiture case is to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer, who also understands civil procedure. If your property has been seized, you are not entitled to a lawyer to defend you. You must call one immediately. Time is limited. If the value of your seized property is less than $25,000, you have only 30 days to act in order to recover your property.