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East Hartford, CT criminal defense attorney

In the United States, the police and the criminal justice system are under constant scrutiny and judgment from everyone. In recent years, the behavior and conduct of the country’s police force have been topics plastered across research papers, various studies, news articles, and social media posts, especially in the past few months. This has also led many lawmakers to propose new legislation to correct some of the injustices that are known and currently exist in the system, such as how the civil asset forfeiture system currently operates. There are actually three different types of asset forfeiture available, but unlike criminal forfeiture, you do not need to be charged with a crime to have your assets seized through civil forfeiture.

What Is Asset Forfeiture?

Asset forfeiture is a legal practice that allows law enforcement officers to claim a person’s property without charging the person with a crime. This type of forfeiture brings charges against the property itself, rather than the person. To initiate the civil asset forfeiture process, only suspicion is necessary, although the government will have to prove with a preponderance of the evidence that the assets are subject to forfeiture. However, the burden of proof is often left to the property owner to prove that he or she is innocent and he or she is also often not guaranteed the basic right to legal counsel.

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seizure, Connecticut criminal defense attorneyWhen a person is convicted of committing a crime, it is understandable that the government might have interest in seizing proceeds generated by the commission of that crime. For example, if a drug dealer is arrested and convicted, the money he or she made selling drugs can reasonably be seized and kept by law enforcement and other state agencies—with proper reporting, of course. It also reasonable for the state to seize and keep other property that may have been used in the commission of the crime. A good example might be the computer used by a convicted scammer to defraud unsuspecting victims.

For many years, state and federal government agencies had wide discretion to seize assets that were allegedly linked to criminal activity. The problem, however, was that the agencies could—in many cases—keep the assets even if the assets’ owner was never convicted or even charged. The process for getting seized property back was often difficult, time-consuming, and expensive, and many owners simply gave up.

To combat this issue, some states—including Connecticut—passed legislation that prohibits asset seizure and forfeiture without an associated criminal conviction. At the same time, however, new initiatives by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) seem to be encouraging a resurgence of the old problem.

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asset forfeiture, Hartford criminal defense attorneyIt is rare for lawmakers from opposing parties to completely agree on a particular topic. When they do, the correct path is often so glaringly obvious that it transcends party lines and truly promotes the common good. Such was the case earlier this year when a bill regarding the forfeiture of assets seized in criminal investigations was put to a vote in the Connecticut legislature. In both the House and Senate, the measure was passed unanimously, and earlier this week, Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed the bill into law. The new law looks to protect the rights of citizens by requiring a conviction before the government can permanently confiscate a person’s assets and property.

Understanding Asset Forfeiture

Private assets are often seized by law enforcement and government entities when a person is arrested on criminal charges. If the assets are deemed to be related to criminal activity, the government may look to keep them permanently either as part of the criminal proceedings or in a separate matter in civil court. Prior to the passage of the new law, however, civil asset forfeiture did not require the property owner to be convicted first. Estimates suggest that Connecticut police departments and prosecutors generated nearly $18 million in asset forfeiture between 2009 and 2016, with nearly two-thirds coming from civil proceedings without requiring a conviction.

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