In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the authorities have significant power to enforce the law. Offenders may be arrested, placed on trial, and sentenced to county jail or prison in addition to other penalties such as hefty fines. In addition to this power, the state also wields the power to seize your property, including your money, vehicle and even your home. This power of civil asset forfeiture can be used against you even if you are not convicted of a crime.
If you are facing the forfeiture of your assets, it is absolutely essential that you obtain legal representation without delay. The system in Pennsylvania that allows the state to acquire your assets cannot be stopped without acquiring effective legal help.
If you or a loved one is facing civil asset forfeiture in Pennsylvania, contact experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer Michael Worgul. He has more than a decade of experience handling legal cases and achieving the best possible outcomes for his clients.
Application of Civil Forfeiture in Pennsylvania
The majority of asset forfeitures in Pennsylvania are handled according to civil statutes and not criminal statutes. The most common use of civil asset forfeiture occurs in relationship to activities associated with the illegal drug trade. Materials, substances, paraphernalia, and equipment used to produce drugs, as well as vehicles used to transport money, guns, and drugs or any other items connected to drug trafficking may be seized by the state. Money or property connected to human trafficking or terrorism may also be captured in accordance with Pennsylvania civil law.
Other cases of civil asset forfeiture can include the seizure of electronic recording devices used to illegally copy/duplicate music and vehicles that are used to illegally dump garbage.
Burden of Proof in Pennsylvania
The laws in Pennsylvania which govern civil asset forfeiture favor the government’s side of the case significantly. As the property owner who has received notice of asset forfeiture by the police, you have 30 days to file a petition to recover your property. If you fail to file the petition, or if it is denied, the property is auctioned off and the proceeds used by state authorities.
Once you file the petition to get your property back, the prosecution has the burden of presenting evidence that the property is connected to an alleged crime that requires forfeiture. The burden of proof, however, is not beyond a reasonable doubt – a standard which is required in criminal cases. In order for asset forfeiture to proceed, you as the property owner does not need to have committed a crime, and the property itself does not need to have been used in a crime.
The burden of proof is simply that more than half (or a preponderance) of the evidence must show that a tenuous link exists between the property and the commission of a crime. On the other hand, you as the property owner must prove you have acquired the property lawfully and have not used it in an unlawful manner.
Criminal Asset Forfeiture in Pennsylvania
Asset forfeiture in Pennsylvania on a criminal basis is common as well and requires the property owner to be convicted of the crime forming the basis of the forfeiture. A common example would be a DUI conviction resulting in the forfeiture of the driver’s vehicle.
It is important to obtain the legal help of an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney that understands the laws involving civil and criminal asset forfeiture. You must have an attorney who will stand up vigorously for your rights and provide you with intelligent and vigorous representation to help you recover your property.
How can I protect my assets from civil forfeiture in PA?
Many police officers are now in the habit of routinely asking people if they have any large sums of cash in the car with them at traffic stops. If you are carrying a large sum of cash, even if you have a legitimate, easily-proven use for the money, answering “yes” will risk the loss of that money. While you should never directly lie to law enforcement, you have the right to refuse to answer questions by law enforcement without a lawyer so that you do not say anything potentially incriminating. This means that you can simply politely decline to answer any questions and reject consenting to any searches. Civil forfeiture of any asset is only possible if police can prove that it exists.
If your money or other valuable asset is easily visible or found during a search that was executed due to probable cause, you should make sure to get your legitimate reason for having the asset put in the report and on the record. While police are not obligated to believe you, if your reasons are well-documented and presented upfront, you are more likely to keep your cash. Furthermore, by making it clear that you are willing to fight to keep an asset, you may be able to show police that it is not worth taking. Finally, if any asset is seized, make sure to get any relevant police reports and consult a lawyer. It is very difficult to get these goods back, but it is possible to build an effective case with the help of expert lawyers. In the end, many people argue that the best way to protect your belongings from civil forfeiture is to support new legislation to change the way it happens in the first place.
Contact an Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney Today
If you are facing civil asset forfeiture, you may feel as though your rights are being violated. Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer Michael Worgul and his team are ready to fight hard on your behalf with aggressive advocacy to pursue the recovery of your possessions and assets from the state. With more than 10 years of experience as a highly experienced litigator in Pennsylvania,
Attorney Michael Worgul is ready to help you recover what has been taken from you.
Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146 to begin the process and schedule a free consultation.