Few areas of criminal law and procedure are more invasive of individual rights than the power of the government to seize assets of innocent property parties without a hearing or minimal due process protections of any kind.
Most people subjected to the nightmare of criminal property forfeiture are shocked to learn that whether or not they have been charged with a crime, state or federal authorities can seize their property without a hearing simply by a non-judicial officer- a police officer with a non-legal agenda for example- labeling it contraband or the so-called "instrumentality" of crime.
More incredibly, once property is labeled as connected to criminal activity it can be seized without hearing even if the owner has no idea that it was connected to a crime and, more incredibly, even if the owner is not charged with a crime and is completely innocent of criminal activity.
Although a due process hearing is allowed after a property seizure, the prosecution need only show that there is a probability of a connection to criminal activity (not proof beyond a reasonable doubt as in a criminal trial) at which point the burden of proof shifts to the property owner to show that there is no connection to criminal activity. Consistent with its characterization as an action against property rather than the person, forfeiture statutes have, as a general rule, made no allowance for the property interests of non-culpable third parties. As a result, unlawfully used property has traditionally been held forfeitable even though the owner had no involvement in the underlying criminal offense. When the owner of the property is also guilty of the underlying offense, forfeiture is said to provide an additional penalty for the criminal conduct by serving "to deprive potential [and actual] criminals of access to useful property, and hence to deter crime", in the language of the reported cases on this issue. The forfeiture of property owned by innocent third parties, on the other hand, is frequently justified by its alleged effect in inducing lessors, bailors, or secured creditors to exercise greater care when transferring possession of their property.
This incredibly unjust procedural process- contrary to basic notions of criminal and civil constitutional rights- has given risen to innumerable outrageous cases throughout the country, Connecticut being no exception.
Many of the most distressing of forfeiture in the last decades in which we have been involved have included innocent parents- many elderly without resources- who have been exposed to loss of their homes because of children using or selling pot and other drugs while residing in their parents' homes without their knowledge.
The above discussion will be regarded by most readers as academic and boring: let us now speak directly and practically.
Simply said, criminal forfeiture is a frightening experience for any citizen caught in its dangerous web for the simple reason that anyone who owns property with any connection to a criminal act, whether or not innocent of the act itself, is at risk of losing ownership of that property to state or federal law enforcement authorities. This is equally true of family and friends of a criminal defendant who stand to lose essential property such as homes and savings simply because of their association with the criminal defendant.
Once law enforcement authorities designate property as criminally tainted there is little the owner can do pre-seizure; equally distressing is the complicated and minimal procedural protections available after seizure has occurred, especially for citizens with no connection to the underlying crime.
Fortunately, there has been some softening in the Court's application of this draconian process, spurred on in recent years by prosecutors and other members of the legal, law enforcement, and political communities who themselves have been exposed to loss of homes and properties even though innocent of criminal conduct.
Our office has had considerable experience in this area of law, including some notorious cases involving innocent parents confronted with seizure of the family homestead because of minimal criminal activity conducted by siblings of which the parent had no knowledge.
Over the years we have developed a sophisticated approach to the handling of these unfortunate prosecutions. Because of the laws and procedures designed to favor government seizure, anyone caught in this poisonous trap requires inventive, experienced, and vigorous legal representation for which we have developed a well-earned reputation by providing dedicated representation for each case we have taken on over the last several decades of practice.
Because of our sympathy for citizens who have been targeted by this process we welcome any calls or inquiries.
To learn more about how we can help with your case, call us at 860 728-4900.