Criminal and Civil Forfeiture
We represent individuals who are threatened with the forfeiture of their assets, either by law enforcement during a criminal investigation, or which the government wants to have forfeit in connection with a criminal case. A number of state and federal forfeiture laws allow law enforcement or the courts to seize money, belongings, and other assets. We can help individuals navigate these complicated laws and assist individuals who want to keep or recover their property.
There are two types of forfeiture. The first is known as criminal forfeiture. It occurs only after a person has been convicted of a crime and is part of the sentencing process. When a defendant is convicted of certain classes of crimes—including theft or robbery, fraud, money laundering, drug offenses, and some immigration law offenses—the court can order the seizure of property that was unlawfully obtained, that was used to facilitate the crime, or that was obtained using proceeds from illegal activity. That means that they could seize, for example, property that was stolen; or money that someone earned selling drugs; or property that someone purchased using money that was earned selling drugs; or car that was used to transport drugs. In a criminal forfeiture, the court considers seizure to be part of the punishment.
Unfortunately, under state law and some federal laws, law enforcement often does not have to wait until someone is convicted to try to seize that person’s property. If law enforcement believes that property was involved in, or obtained because of, a crime, it can seize the property even if no criminal charges have been brought against the owner. This is called “civil forfeiture.” The laws tend to create a low bar for law enforcement to exercise their authority to conduct a civil forfeiture—to seize property, they only have to be able to articulate a reasonable basis for their belief that the property was involved in criminal activity. Massachusetts’ law also gives law enforcement a big incentive to seize property: law enforcement keeps half of the proceeds, and the prosecutor’s office takes the other half (earning Massachusetts an “F” grade from the Institute for Justice for its forfeiture laws). Many other states and the federal government have similarly skewed incentive structures.
We represent individuals who might face either criminal or civil forfeiture proceedings. We have represented a number of defendants who face criminal forfeiture as part of their criminal case. We have successfully negotiated to reduce the amount of money or property that our clients have had to forfeit. In the case of civil forfeiture, we will represent clients who wish to recover their property in forfeiture proceedings. Given the broad power that law enforcement has to seize valuable assets and given that the seizure may indicate that the owner is under investigation by law enforcement, it is important for people who have been subject to seizure to obtain counsel. If you have had your property seized, we encourage you to contact us at (617) 742-6020 to speak with an attorney.