Forfeiture Law in Washington – All You Need to Know
If you have had your property seized by law enforcement in Washington or at the Sea-tac airport, a forfeiture defense attorney can help you recover what belongs to you. An experienced attorney can help you build a compelling case to show that the forfeiture was wrong.
Ordinarily, law enforcement agencies and officials have the power to seize certain types of property. Under Washington and federal asset forfeiture laws, an asset may be seized if it was used in the commission of a crime. The laws are an important part of law enforcement's role to deter the commission of crime and they are helpful to show that in the end, “crime does not pay”.
However, as is often the situation in these cases, law enforcement agencies can be a bit too enthusiastic, leading them to seize an innocent person's property. We have assisted many clients in cases where the property taken had zero connection to an alleged crime. But if a defendant does not swiftly secure the services of a Washington asset forfeiture attorney their property may be sold by law enforcement.
The forfeiture defense attorneys at The Curtis Firm, LLC can help you fight the forfeiture of your property to government authorities. To request a free case evaluation, get in touch with us today.
The government's power to seize property
Under Washington and federal law, government agencies have power to seize instruments that were used in the performance of a crime. They have the power to seize unlawful contraband such guns, drugs, knives and other goods. The Port of Seattle Police Department provides the primary law enforcement service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and the Port's seaport properties. In the context of the Sea-tac airport, the Port of Seattle Police Department is the main law enforcement agency that institute the forfeiture procedure.
Law enforcement may also take possession of your property or money if they suspect that it was acquired through illegal activity. The purpose of this power is to enable the law enforcement agencies put a stop to criminal activity and the distribution of its proceeds. There are three main categories that can be seized here. They include:
- Proceeds from unlawful activity: This includes property that was gotten from specific crimes or that can be traced back to an illegal activity
- Contraband: This includes property that the law declares is illegal to own e.g. drugs, weapons etc.
- Tools used to commit a crime: This include instruments that were used to carry out criminal activity
Under federal laws such as the Bank Secrecy Act, travelers leaving and entering the US with more than $10,000 in cash are expected to report it to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). When unreported, cash at airports may be seized by the CBP or officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
According to the DEA's agency statistics for 2017, the agency made more than 8,850 seizures worth $539 million in 2017. In 2016, an independent investigation found that DEA agents had seized at least $209 million in cash from travelers at 15 of the biggest airports in the US, over the past decade.
However, while the agency does have the power to seize property suspected to have been used in the commission of a crime, they cannot seize your cash for no reason at all. If they suspect that the money is tied to the commission of a crime, they must prove this in an asset forfeiture case.
Justification of asset forfeiture
Under the US constitution, everybody has a right to freedom from unlawful search and seizure. This means that people should not have their assets seized for no reason at all.
Where property has been seized, law enforcement must prove that it has been validly seized in a forfeiture action. This may occur either in a civil forfeiture action or in a criminal forfeiture action.
- Civil forfeiture: In these proceedings, the case is usually instituted against the property. Law enforcement will be required to show why you should be made to permanently forfeit the property, usually by showing that there is a reasonable suspicion it is tainted by illegal activity. However, you should know this is not a criminal action. Law enforcement does not have to actually charge you with committing a crime. This is why the action is said to be against the property. Due to this, the standard of proof that will be required from law enforcement will be below that of a criminal trial i.e. on the balance of probabilities. What the court would ask is: was it more likely from the evidence that the cash was gotten from or used to commit illegal activity?
- Criminal forfeiture: In a criminal forfeiture proceeding, the action is against the owner of the property, and not the property. This proceeding is usually commenced after charges have been filed against an individual and the person has been proved guilty. This means if you were charged and convicted for a crime, the government can begin another proceeding to permanently keep any property tied up in the commission of the crime. Although a criminal trial generally requires a high standard i.e. proof beyond reasonable doubt, the forfeiture proceedings will only require proof on the balance of probabilities.
If your cash was seized at an airport in Washington but criminal charges were not filed against you, a civil forfeiture proceeding will ordinarily follow. If criminal charges were filed, a criminal forfeiture proceeding will follow at the end of the trial.
In either case, if law enforcement is able to prove that you should not recover the property, they will be given permission to keep the cash or sell the property. Our experienced asset forfeiture defense attorneys can build a compelling case on your behalf to recover your cash or property.
Defending your property against forfeiture
Usually, individuals that wish to protect their property or cash from forfeiture will have a limited amount of time within which to enter a defense. This is why it is absolutely important that you contact a skilled Washington asset forfeiture attorney immediately.
If law enforcement is able to prove their case for why you should forfeit your property, you will be required to prove why you should be allowed to recover the cash or property.
At The Curtis Firm, LLC, we have assisted hundreds of clients to recover what rightfully belongs to them from the authorities. We understand how these cases work and know that law enforcement agents are often over enthusiastic in the performance of their duties.
According to a 2017 review by the Inspector General of the Justice Department, only 44% of seizures by the DEA in that year had anything to do with a crime. For the most part these seizures only deprived innocent people of their cash at transportation facilities like airports and bus stations.
In our experience defending people who have had their cash unlawfully seized, we have developed a keen understanding of the system and can raise a number of defenses on your behalf.
We can show on your behalf that the seizures had nothing to do with a criminal activity and that it was unlawful. However, in order to ensure recover of your property, you should contact us immediately the incident occurs.
Contact our skilled Washington forfeiture lawyers today
As a former prosecutor, attorney Curtis James has a deep understanding of how law enforcement and prosecutors work. He knows when they have a thin case and what to do to expose their flaws.
Reach out to him at The Curtis Firm, LLC today so he can put this knowledge to work for you. Contact us to set up a free, no-obligation consultation today.