If you are accused of a drug crime in Indiana, you may find yourself facing a civil forfeiture action. This type of action is filed by prosecutors when they are attempting to receive a forfeiture of property they believe was used as part of the illegal drug activity.
You are probably already feeling overwhelmed, scared and confused if you are accused or being investigated of a drug crime, and having officers show up to take your property can cause you even greater stress.
The scary thing about a civil forfeiture is it is allowed even if you are only suspected of a crime. An arrest is not required.
Civil forfeiture is not a criminal matter
A civil forfeiture case is completely separate from any of your criminal charges. A civil forfeiture case is brought in civil court. The prosecution must file a petition in civil court requesting an order that they can seize your property as part of an investigation.
The investigation typically involves suspicious of things such as dealing, manufacturing or possession of drugs, receiving stolen property or theft.
They may receive their order before you even know their petition has been filed. Therefore, your property can be taken from you before you have a chance to react to the situation, leaving you totally unprepared for what to do next.
What property can be taken?
Officers have broad discretion when it comes to what property can be taken. Since they can take any property that they believe is involved in the investigation, you could take your phone, vehicle, weapons or even money.
They can also take property they believe might have been purchased with illegally obtained money. This could be your home.
How can I fight for my property?
There is a process you can use to fight to get your property back. However, it involves requirements and deadlines that you must meet.
After your property is taken, a civil forfeiture action must be filed within 180 days, or 90 days if you file a written notice demanding return of your seized property.
Once the action is filed, you have 20 days to file an answer to the action. It is best to do this with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney to increase the chance of successfully getting your property back.
After your answer is filed, the prosecution must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was seized in connection with your criminal charges.
What happens to my property if I lose?
Any property taken through a civil forfeiture order cannot be returned to you until a decision is made on the civil forfeiture action. As with many court proceedings, this can be a lengthy process.
If the prosecution proves their case, your property could be sold at a Sheriff’s sale. Any money of yours that was seized could be ordered to pay the costs of the investigation.
It is terrifying to think that you could lose your property forever even if you are never arrested, charged or go to court.
Additionally, the civil forfeiture process can be convoluted and confusing. Criminal defense attorneys have the knowledge to help you fight the forfeiture and protect your rights.