How Asset Forfeiture Works In Federal Criminal Cases
A criminal charge can not only lead to the loss of your freedom. It can also lead to the loss of your property as well. It is common practice for prosecutors to seek “forfeiture” of any assets that are allegedly connected to criminal activity.
Criminal forfeiture is part of the sentencing process. In the federal court system, the indictment will include a notice of the government’s intention to seek forfeiture of property against the defendant. The forfeiture itself is generally limited to those property interests held by the defendant that were directly involved in the criminal acts alleged in the indictment. However, if the original property involved in the offense is no longer available, the government can seek forfeiture of “substitute” property that is equivalent in value.
What Happens When Someone Else Claims to Own the Property Being Seized?
There are also procedures in place to ensure that the government does not seek criminal forfeiture of property that does not actually belong to the defendant but to a third party. These procedures can get quite confusing, however, often leaving innocent third parties fighting their own legal battle to protect their own property from seizure.
A recent unpublished decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Javat, provides an illustration. In this case, a federal grand jury indicted the defendant for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. At a subsequent hearing to determine the defendant’s bond pending trial, his counsel identified two pieces of real property–a condominium and a warehouse–as owned by the defendant’s “family,” and which could be used to secure his bond.
The defendant later decided to plead guilty to the conspiracy charge. The trial court ordered asset forfeiture as part of the defendant’s sentence. The forfeiture was specified as a dollar amount attributable to the wire fraud.
The defendant apparently lacked the money to pay that dollar amount, as the prosecutors later returned to the judge and sought forfeiture of the condo and warehouse as “substitute property” to satisfy the defendant’s sentence. The defendant objected on a number of grounds, including his claim that the government failed to establish he owned the properties in question.
On top of that, two other individuals attempted to intervene in the case, alleging they were the sole owners of the condo and warehouse, respectively. The trial court issued a preliminary forfeiture order and denied the requests from the third parties to intervene. The 11th Circuit affirmed, noting that under federal law, the third parties had to follow a separate set of procedures to attempt to prove their ownership. They were not allowed to simply intervene in the underlying criminal proceeding.
Contact Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Jose Baez Today
Asset forfeiture is often one of the more underappreciated consequences of a criminal conviction. The best way to try and protect your property from seizure is to work with an experienced Orlando criminal defense lawyer who will zealously represent your interests in court. Contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.