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Can I lose my property if I am charged with a drug crime?

Asset forfeiture, also sometimes called civil forfeiture, is one of the many potential penalties that can result from getting charged with a drug crime. This means that your assets can be taken away if law enforcement officers claim that they were somehow involved in your drug crime.

What is forfeiture?

One of the major problems with fighting a forfeiture proceeding is that, unlike the actual drug charges, it is a civil case. It is also, technically, a case against your property, not against you. One important consequence is that, while criminal defendants are constitutionally entitled to a public defender, their property is not. Further, the burden of proof in a forfeiture case is far lower than in a criminal case, which means prosecutors will have to work less to prove their claims that your property was involved in drug crimes. Generally, forfeiture can happen even if you are not actually convicted of the drug crime that gave rise to the whole matter; recent changes in California law do require a conviction for forfeiture of an asset worth less than $40,000, a vehicle or real estate.

What can be forfeited?

Typical assets that end up seized in drug cases are cash, houses and cars. Prosecutors may allege that you stored or made drugs in your house or yard. They can claim that you used your car when you traveled to sell or purchase the drugs. California law does provide an exception in cases where the house is a family residence or belongs to other people who were not aware of its role in a drug crime.

Another serious forfeiture issue arises when the forfeited property belongs to a person not being charged with a drug crime. For example, if a family member or a friend borrows your car and then gets arrested for selling drugs from it, the car is likely to be seized even though this will cause serious problems for you, a person no way complicit in the drug crime.

What can I do if my property has been seized?

If your property has been seized in order to initiate forfeiture proceedings, you need to act quickly to contest it. If you do not contest, the forfeiture will go forward and exceptions requiring conviction will not apply.

If police officers have seized your property claiming it was used to facilitate a drug crime, you need to move fast if you do not want to lose your assets. This is true even if you are not the defendant in the criminal case. Speak with an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible to learn about your rights and options in this matter.

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