Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 11, 2020

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When law enforcement or other government agent seizes a vehicle or other property as having been used in a crime, there is no simple avenue to getting it back. Begin the process of recovering your property by contacting an experienced civil or criminal defense attorney, who should have previous experience in recovering property seized through asset forfeiture.   

Asset forfeiture can take place in both criminal and civil cases. In a criminal case, an asset forfeiture action concerns the seizure of property seen as either having been used in a crime or the “fruit” of a crime. In such an action, your vehicle has been seized, not you. Since, the lawsuit concerns property, it falls into the category of a civil suit,    Note: it is not actually correct to say that no trial is required for property to be seized. Under constitutional law, property cannot be seized unless due process of law is first adhered to, including a trial when a party is contesting the government action. The lawsuit is actually against your property,  and you, the individual seeking to get it back, are a third party to the case. 

The purpose of asset forfeiture in criminal cases is to prevent items of property from being used to accomplish illegal goals. The government alleges that you may have profited from someone using your vehicle or other property for an illegal purpose. The government seizes the property because it has evidence to show you may have profited from the transaction. This is a way for the government to prevent another illegal use of your property. The seizure also acts as a penalty for the illegal activity. 

In an asset forfeiture proceeding, the city, county, state, or federal government seeks to transfer title of the vehicle or other property from you to itself. The way you will attack their attempt to take your property depends on the court in which the lawsuit is taking place. Each court system has different rules about criminal asset forfeiture. In general, however, most states will provide notice to interested parties about the potential forfeiture. To respond, you as an interested party will have to file the appropriate paperwork in the specified time. If you fail to do so, you could lose the right to get the property back at that time, without any hearing on the government evidence. You will need an attorney’s help in determining what deadlines you must meet and what paperwork and fees you should file. As soon as your property is seized, you should contact an attorney to find out the proper procedure for getting your vehicle or property released from custody.  

Law enforcement agencies may require you to pay a towing fee and daily storage fees while the case against your vehicle is pending in court. Each state has different laws about your rights regarding the notice of the seizure and towing and storage.