In a civil forfeiture proceeding, prosecutors attempt to force defendants to forfeit property that was obtained from, or used to further, a crime – usually a drug offense. To pursue a civil forfeiture of money or property, a prosecutor need not have formally charged the individual with a crime; indeed, a prosecutor need only possesses probable cause that the individual committed a crime. In such a case, the civil defendant, not the government, is obligated to prove that the money or property targeted was not derived from illegal activities, but obtained through lawful means. Consult with a Boston drug crimes lawyer to devise a way to safeguard your assets.
Using the criminal forfeiture process, the government can seize all the convicted defendant’s assets, including those unrelated to the crime. A Massachusetts attorney with expertise in defending drug charges may be able to assist the defendant in demonstrating he has standing to challenge the seizure and in proving lawful possession of the property. (18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(2)). A defendant demonstrates standing by providing evidence of genuine, vested ownership of the property. After a proper showing of standing, a claimant must prove lawful ownership of the property by demonstrating that he did not participate in any illegal activity and was, indeed, ignorant of the illegal activity of those with whom he did business.
Cambridge Drug Crimes Lawyer Explains Forfeiture Law
Under G.L. c. 94C, §47, prosecutors are empowered to “petition the superior court in the name of the commonwealth in the nature of a proceeding in rem to order forfeiture of a conveyance, real property, moneys or other things of value subject to forfeiture. . . .” The Commonwealth usually names the property, rather than the suspected owner, as the “defendant” in the civil proceeding. In fact, the complaint or petition is filed in the court having jurisdiction over the targeted property.
Once the Commonwealth demonstrates to the satisfaction of the particular court that it possesses the required probable cause to initiate the action, any person claiming ownership of the property has the burden of proving that the property is not forfeitable or otherwise traceable to criminal activity, such as drug distribution, including real estate, money, negotiable instruments, and securities used or intended to be used to facilitate any violation of criminal statutes.
Property, whether in the form of money, real estate or motor vehicles, may be targeted for forfeiture if it is:
- Contraband (i.e., illegal drugs);
- Used to transport, conceal, or facilitate the manufacture and or distribution of a controlled substance; or,
- Proceeds of illegal activity, such as illicit drug sales, or purchased with the proceeds of illegal activity.
Kevin J. Mahoney is Cambridge, Massachusetts drug crimes defense lawyer.