What Happens When the Police Seize Money, Drugs, or Cars
- The police can seize property incident to an arrest, including items on your person.
- Police officers can take property with a search warrant signed by a judge.
- If the police take your property and you are never charged, a criminal defense lawyer can help you get your property back.
When police raid a house or property, they will usually take items that they think are part of criminal activity. There are generally four main ways that law enforcement agencies can seize people’s property, including:
- While serving a search warrant and conducting a search
- Incident to arrest, meaning found while arresting someone
- By consent
- With a seizure order
Common items seized include vehicles, real estate, firearms, and suspected drug money. Unfortunately, the police may take property from innocent people. It can be challenging to get your property back after the police wrongfully seize your property.
If the police arrest you and take your property for suspected criminal activity, it is important to know your legal rights. American asset forfeiture rules are different depending on state law and federal law. Contact a local criminal defense attorney after an arrest to protect yourself and your property.
Incident to arrest means that the police find certain items while searching you for potentially committing a crime. For example, if you are arrested for alleged drug activity during a traffic stop, illegal drugs found in your pocket could be taken as part of the arrest process. As long as it was a lawful search, these seized items can be used against you in a drug crime case.
A search warrant is a court order issued by a judge. It allows the police to search a person or property to find evidence of a crime and to seize evidence.
However, to get a search warrant, the police must show that there is “probable cause.” Probable cause means that there is “a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime.” However, there are exceptions to this rule. One exception is the “hot pursuit” rule. If a police officer is in hot pursuit of a suspected criminal on foot or by vehicle, they may be able to access the area where the suspect is fleeing.
If you consent to give property to the police, they can use the property against you as evidence of a crime. However, if you feel like you are coerced, convinced, threatened, or tricked into giving the item over to the police, it may be a violation of your rights.
If there is a seizure order, then you must give up possession of your property. You can face penalties if you refuse a seizure order. Penalties for refusing a court order can include being held in contempt of court, which could mean spending time in jail.
Generally, the police department seizes property to use as evidence against defendants at trial. These items are usually cataloged and kept in a secure storage location, with a record of who examined the property and when.
Tracking the property helps create a chain of evidence. A chain of evidence shows that the seized drugs or seized property were not changed or interfered with, pending criminal charges.
After a criminal investigation, the police are to return most items to the property owner. If the suspect is not guilty, then the police should return the seized assets. If the police take property from suspected drug dealers, the government may hold onto the money or property under what are known as War on Drugs asset forfeiture laws.
These civil forfeiture laws allow the police or government to hold onto items, property, or real estate if you allegedly engage in illegal activities. An example is if you use your car to transport cocaine, the police can take your car. If the police have probable cause to believe you bought luxury jewelry with drug money, they can take the jewelry.
The items that are not returned are usually put up for auction to the highest bidder. The money made from the sale typically goes to the police and local government.
The U.S. Supreme Court has limits to civil asset forfeiture laws because they can be easily abused. Under your Eighth Amendment rights against excessive fines, you may be able to argue that the property the police seized is not equal to the crime involved.
For example, if you sell $100 in cannabis and the police seize your expensive car they believe was used in the drug sale, taking your $50,000 car does not justify a petty crime.
You can still have your property seized by police, whether fairly or unfairly. However, a criminal defense attorney can argue that the seizure was excessive under the Supreme Court ruling.
If the police take your property during an arrest or criminal investigation, you should be able to get your property back unless it was used in the suspected crime. A criminal defense lawyer can help you fight the charges to avoid a criminal conviction. Your lawyer can also help you get your property back after a seizure by law enforcement. Talk to a local criminal law defense attorney for legal advice.
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