Michigan Forfeiture Defense Attorney
When you need to protect your money and property in a forfeiture action, call upon the firm which has as a member of their legal team the former chief of both the Oakland County and Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office’s forfeiture units. LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has the expertise, and we are not afraid to win!
When can the police seize property?
Police have the authority to seize and attempt to forfeit “anything of value” that was allegedly derived from an illegal source, such as drug trafficking. They can also seize property and money derived from so-called “racketeering enterprises” which are any organized criminal activity engaged in to make a profit from illegal activities. This document concerns only drug forfeitures, and a future page will focus on racketeering and other kinds of forfeitures.
Changes to the forfeiture laws
In August 2019, amendments were enacted to change some of the forfeiture law provisions to make it fairer to people who had property seized and to require the police or prosecutor to serve forfeiture notices on a person charged with a crime as well as the owner. Importantly, a criminal conviction is required in a drug case as opposed to the past when no conviction was necessary. These amendments to the forfeiture law go into effect for forfeitures pending or started on or after January 1, 2020.
What types of property are forfeitable?
Anything of value may be the subject of a forfeiture case. This means money, or any kind of property with any value. The property does not have to be proceeds of the crime. It can be any of the following:
- Raw materials or equipment used in the manufacturing, processing, or delivering illegal controlled substances;
- Containers used to hold illegal controlled substances (cars are considered containers);
- Conveyances such as cars, boats, trucks, airplanes, or anything else used to facilitate transportation of illegal controlled substances;
- Anything of value given or intended to be given in exchange for illegal controlled substances or which is traceable to such an exchange or used to facilitate the violation of the controlled substances laws. This provision obviously includes money.
1. Seizure, Notice of Intent to Forfeit, and Claim
If the seized property is valued under $50,000.00, the police are required to serve a Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit on the owner of the property and the person it was seized from (even if they are not the owner). A notarized Claim of Interest must be filed with the seizing police agency by anyone wanting to challenge the forfeiture, within 20 days getting the Notice of Seizure.
2. No claim filed within 20 days
The property is declared forfeited and is disposed of according to the forfeiture statute upon approval of a county prosecutor or the attorney general. The ways in which the property is disposed of are strictly detailed by the statute. Any property, money, or proceeds from the sale of such property can only be a) used to pay expenses incurred in the seizure and forfeiture action; b) donated to nonprofit organizations whose “primary activity” is to assist in drug-related investigations; c) used for any other law enforcement purposes, such as buying police equipment, training, and education of police personnel.
3. Claim filed; criminal conviction required
If a claim is filed, it must be forwarded to the prosecuting attorney or the Michigan Attorney General for handling. Property where a claim is filed may not be forfeited and disposed of unless the related criminal case is completed either by a conviction, plea, or dismissal. The forfeiture case will be stayed until the criminal case is concluded. The criminal conviction rule is not applicable if: a claim is not filed; b) the claim is withdrawn; c) the property owner waives the conviction requirement; or d) or the defendant in the criminal case is a fugitive who cannot be found after reasonable efforts by the government.
4. The forfeiture hearing
If a timely claim is filed and the criminal case is over, the forfeiture action may proceed. At the hearing, the prosecutor has the burden of proving a) the claimant had prior knowledge of, or they themselves committed, or they consented to the crime which money or property came from, and b) the property or money is derived from illegal drug sales or in some way facilitated illegal drug sales. The burden of proof on the prosecutor is a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means by 51% or more. It is a much lower burden than in criminal cases, where the burden is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Forfeiture cases are civil litigation over property rights, not criminal litigation.
The Criminal Case
Typically, civil forfeiture cases spring from an underlying criminal case. It is logical and good sense for one attorney or one firm to handle both the criminal case and the civil forfeiture. Defense tactics will be tightly coordinated, and strategies will be organized. There is no good reason to have two different defense teams. A client must simply make sure the firm they hire is very astute at both the criminal and the civil law. Forfeiture law can be complicated, and many criminal defense lawyers do not handle forfeitures. Because the government must achieve a conviction in most cases to secure a forfeiture, the stakes are higher than ever when trying to avoid a felony or misdemeanor conviction.
Michigan’s Premier Criminal Defense and Drug Forfeiture Law Firm
The attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN are highly respected and at the top of the criminal defense profession. And as stated above, we also have the forfeiture law credentials you want in your forfeiture attorney; a perfect combination. When there is no room for errors or false promises, you need the best lawyer you can get by your side. No lawyer can guarantee or promise a particular result; however, your lawyer better be able to guarantee that he or she will do everything possible to help you.
The dedicated, experienced and zealous defense attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have successfully represented thousands of clients on felony and misdemeanor charges in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, Washtenaw, and Livingston Counties and throughout Michigan. We have a well-earned reputation for providing the highest quality defense and aggressive representation, while showing empathy and care for each client. Call us today at (248) 263-6800 or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will contact you promptly.