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What is civil asset forfeiture?

There are countless laws and enforcement rules with which average U.S. citizens are not familiar. However, the state and federal agencies who are knocking on doors, pulling over drivers, carrying out a search and placing people under arrest are quite familiar with what they can and cannot do.

For example, many people are shocked and very upset to learn that their assets can be seized by authorities investigating a case should there be reason to suspect the assets are tied to illegal activity. This means that if police suspect a person for white collar crimes like embezzlement, fraud or money laundering, they may confiscate property and money they believe were used in or are the product of criminal activity. This is referred to as civil asset forfeiture.

However, there has been widespread criticism of this process, which has raked in an estimated $2.5 billion since 2001. Most notably, the system arguably works as an incentive program for state and federal agencies. When these assets are forfeited, there are programs that allow these enforcement agencies to split the money or property that has been seized for their own needs.

This can happen regardless of if a person is ever charged or found guilty of an offense. In fact, a statistic reported in this article by the Washington Post states over 80 percent of the people who have assets seized are never indicted.

Because of these serious issues and the fact that civil asset forfeiture can have a devastating impact on people who are already dealing with enough, Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced changes to the forfeiture process. According to reports, the policy will prohibit agencies from taking advantage of federal seizure laws and joint investigations for their benefit without cause. The policy was changed in the hopes that it will remove the apparent incentives for seizing assets.

However, the policy does not put a stop to the confiscation of a person's property and money. If you are under investigation for a crime and have watched as police seize your assets, you are likely very upset and scared. You must remember that you have rights; speaking with an attorney can help you protect these rights, your future and your assets.

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