Coalition Works to Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws

Published: Dec 07, 2016, by admin in Constitutional Rights, Criminal Defense, Legal Blog, Property

Civil asset forfeiture is the legal term that the authorities use to describe how they confiscate property from suspected criminals. Taking away the profits that people might gain from criminal activities isn’t unreasonable in itself. The problem is, in Illinois the authorities do not need to prove that someone is a criminal before confiscating their property. In fact, you don’t even need to be placed under arrest to fall victim to civil asset forfeiture.

Fortunately, reforms may be on the way. A bipartisan group of legislators is studying possible changes to Illinois’s civil asset forfeiture laws, following the example of several States across the country. For example, New Mexico has abolished civil asset forfeiture completely. As for Michigan, it’s recently made it easier for citizens to challenge the confiscation of their property in court.

How Does Civil Asset Forfeiture Work?

All the police need to seize your car, cash, cell phone, jewelry, computers, or home is probable cause to believe those things were used in relation to or bought with the proceeds from a criminal activity. For example, if the police catch you with illegal drugs and cash, they can take the cash because they will assume the cash was obtained by selling some of the drugs. You can challenge the confiscation of your cash, but the cards are stacked against you.

You will need to pay a $100 dollar bond or 10% the seized property’s value–whichever is greater. At the civil asset forfeiture hearing, the authorities will win if they can prove with “a preponderance of the evidence,” or with reasonable probability, that your property was used in a crime or obtained from a crime. This is a much lower standard of proof than the one used in criminal cases, where a prosecutor must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Illinois Has Taken Civil Asset Forfeiture Too Far

In Illinois, the police agencies that seize the property can keep 90% of the proceeds from its sale. The practical effect of this policy is that law enforcement agencies have an incentive to confiscate as much property as possible. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, state law enforcement have kept $72 million of the property they seized since 2014–and this doesn’t take into account the property seized by federal authorities within the state.

Abuses of civil asset forfeiture are widespread. In 2010, the police chief of Grant Park was sentenced to more than 5 years in federal prison over a criminal bribery scheme based on his department’s civil asset forfeiture activities. The chief accepted bribes from over 100 people in exchange for returning their seized property. This sort of scheme is made possible by how hard it is for civilians to get their property back through legal means.

Legislative change is a slow process. The Judiciary Civil and Criminal Committees of the Illinois House of Representatives heard arguments in favor of changing civil asset forfeiture in April of 2016. It may be another year or two before the House passes any bills. Until then, you will need to rely on the advocacy of an experienced Chicago defense attorney to defend your property from civil asset forfeiture.

O’Meara Law Is Here To Help

If your property has been confiscated, or if you want to learn more about how an attorney can help, call O’Meara Law LLC at 312-909-0706 today for a free and confidential consultation.