Have you ever been stopped by an officer for speeding - maybe you were only driving 10 mph over the speed limit? Did the officer who pulled you over ask how much cash you had in the car?
According to the Institute for Justice (http://ij.org/pfp-state-pages/pfp-alabama/), in 2013, a Georgia resident, Ming Tong Liu, was stopped by a Mobile County Sheriff’s deputy for speeding 10 mph over the limit on I-10. The driver had over $75,000 in cash in his car, which he planned to use to finalize a deal purchasing a restaurant. Unfortunately, the law enforcement officer didn’t believe his story and seized all of the cash. The deputy then contacted U.S. Customs, and the two law enforcement agencies both got a share of the seized money. It took Liu 10 months, with the help of a lawyer, to get his money back. Of course, by this time, the restaurant had sold to another buyer.
Just doesn’t sound fair, does it? Asset seizure is legal, and it happens all the time. The truth is, the government can legally confiscate cash or property that they claim has been or could be tied to criminal activity. Criminal charges do not have to be filed, for the asset seizure to be legal - this means that law enforcement offers can seize your assets without you ever being charged with a crime. In fact, the case is brought against the property itself, not you.
Asset seizure or asset forfeiture most commonly involves money or cash, but not always. Law enforcement agencies have seized homes, boats, personal property, jewelry, electronics, and even entire bank accounts.
But surely this can’t happen all that often, can it? We don’t have exact numbers for the state of Alabama because state law does not require law enforcement, regardless of agency, to report forfeiture amounts collected or what the funds seized are used for, but from 2000 to 2013, Alabama state and local agencies collected more than $75 million (http://ij.org/pfp-state-pages/pfp-alabama/). Without any regulations on how agencies have to report asset seizure amounts, this results in zero public accountability. There are also very few, if any, regulations on how the revenue from seized assets can be used. Many have referred to asset seizure under the civil forfeiture law as, “policing for profit.” And when citizens want to attempt to reclaim their property, they are often going up against the same law enforcement agencies that seized the property in the first place. Under civil forfeiture law, your property is guilty until you can prove it innocent.
With the odds stacked against you, it is crucial to hire an attorney that is experienced in handling civil forfeiture cases. A criminal attorney will make sure you get a hearing in front of a judge. An attorney will explain all the complicated ins and outs of the case to you. It is never wise to try and negotiate your case with the prosecutors or law enforcement officers yourself. Seeking the advice of an asset seizure attorney can make all the difference and help you get back what is rightly yours.