No Attorney Fee/Costs Unless We Recover
Brian Silber, Esq. is a Nationwide Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney who helps clients recover their property following Government seizures. We are located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and represent clients with Civil Forfeiture cases in Federal Courts across the United States as well as all Florida State Courts.
Depending on the facts of your case, we may be able to recover all or some of your property. Sadly, people routinely lose property to Asset Forfeiture because they are unaware of their rights and due to the fact that most lawyers do not know how to be an effective Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney.
Learn How to Get Your Money Back!
Use the following links to navigate the Civil Asset Forfeiture portion of our website:
- FedEx or UPS Package Seized by Police? Money Confiscated?
- DEA Airport Cash Seizure? We Fight for it Back!
- Chicago O’Hare Airport Money Seizure? DEA Took Your Cash?
- Civil Asset Forfeiture vs. Criminal Forfeiture Explained
- Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act (Explained)
- Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act (FAQ’s)
- Miami Asset Forfeiture Attorney
These pages will provide you with the information you need to make informed and intelligent decisions about your case. To start, read the following:
What is the difference between Asset Seizure and Asset Forfeiture?
First things first. Lets give you a quick and dirty education in Civil Forfeiture Defense. This way, you can make smart decisions about how to get your property back.
ASSET SEIZURE: The term Asset Seizure refers to the act of taking your property. When the Government takes possession of your property, it is “seizing” your property.
ASSET FORFEITURE: While Asset Seizure addresses physical possession of your property, Asset Forfeiture addresses ownership. Forfeiture is the legal process used by the Government to take ownership of property it has seized. Property is “forfeited” when the legal process is complete and official, legal title transfers to the Government.
Remember, it is one thing to take possession of an object, it is another to own it.
Know Your Constitutional Rights
There are two fundamental concepts in U.S. Constitutional law that form the basis of Civil Forfeiture law: The right to own private property and Due Process. All people in the United States, whether they are citizens, immigrants, or even illegal aliens, all have the same fundamental right to own property and benefit from Due Process.
What is Due Process?
Due Process is a concept in law that stands for the idea that a person has the right to challenge the Government when the Government seeks to take away one of his/her Civil Rights. This challenge always takes place in a court of law. When a challenge is made, a person has the right to inspect the Government’s evidence against them, present their own defense, question witnesses, testify on their own behalf, admit evidence, and generally challenge whatever accusations are being made by the Government.
Those who are familiar with Due Process know of it from the criminal justice system.
When the Government seeks to take away a person’s right to life or liberty, we all know the accused has the right to a jury trial where he/she may present their own defense, question witnesses, admit exculpatory evidence, and otherwise challenge the allegations prosecuted against them.
The same exact concept applies to Civil Asset Forfeiture.
Due Process protects property rights in Civil Asset Forfeiture by giving owners the right to challenge forfeiture.
Understanding Civil Forfeiture Defense
When the Government seizes private property, it does not automatically get formal, legal ownership of that property.
Because, U.S. Constitution protects the right to own private property, the Government must satisfy very strict legal requirements before ownership can transfer. The purpose of this process is twofold: 1) To give potential claimants notice that their property was seized, and 2) To give claimants the opportunity to challenge the Government’s claims and fight for the return of their property.
Remember, the Government does not have an automatic right to take private property it decides to label as contraband. Rather, the Government must prove one or both of the following:
- The property was used to commit crime, and/or
- The property was unlawfully obtained.
In light of this, a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney must answer six questions:
- Who owns the property?
- Is the property commingled?
- Was the property lawfully obtained?
- Was the property used to commit crime?
- Are there affirmative defenses, such as Innocent Owner Defense?
- Are there procedural defenses, such as Notice Requirement Defense?
To develop a winning defense, you Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney must have the years of experience in the courtroom and the street smarts to identify the issues that effect your case. Whether that is a nuance in search and seizure law or knowing how to cultivate evidence and use it in court, it takes years of experience to perfect.
Fighting Civil Forfeiture in Court
The first step in any Civil Asset Forfeiture is asset seizure. This event is important because it kicks off a very strict series of events that have corresponding time limitations:
Stage 1: Notice of Seizure
Due Process requires the Government to send notice to all interested parties following an asset seizure. While many seizures happen in person, not all happen with the property owner present. Additionally, a seizure may take place on property far away from the owner’s location, as often happens with real estate and bank accounts.
Depending on the jurisdiction where the civil forfeiture case is litigated, the following time limits may apply:
Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture: The Government must send notice to interested parties within 60 days of asset seizure in Federal cases.
Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture: The Government must send notice to interested parties within 5 days of asset seizure unless the interested party is on scene at the time of the seizure.
Stage 2: Claim Period
The second step in a Civil Asset Forfeiture case is the claim period. During this time, interested parties have a very short window of opportunity to file a claim with law enforcement.
Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture: Claimants have 35 days file their claim from the date Notice of Seizure was mailed.
Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture: Claimants have 15 days to request an Adversarial Preliminary Hearing.
This is where the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act and the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act differ. Under Federal law, the Government can pursue something called “Administrative Forfeiture” before proceeding to court. Administrative forfeiture enables the Government and the claimant to settle the asset forfeiture without litigation in court.
Administrative forfeiture makes sense because it saves time, effort, and resources. To be successful at an administrative resolution, a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney must know how to build a winning defense quickly.
During this stage, your attorney will investigate your case and work with a private investigator to collect evidence, such as bank records, witness statements, and the like. The unique circumstances of your case will dictate what evidence is relevant and what evidence is not.
The most important job a Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney has at this stage is to memorialize your claim in writing and preserve evidence. He/she must also make contact with opposing counsel and begin communicating about the case.
In Florida, you must also preserve your right to an Adversarial Preliminary Hearing.
Stage 3: Settlement Negotiation
A Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney should be nearing the completion of his/her pre-suit case investigation at this point. This may include collecting documentation about the sources of income, lawful use of the seized asset, and other evidence.
The claimant and his/her attorney have an important decision to make at this stage: To negotiate case resolution or proceed with litigation.
In most cases, there is a clear winner and loser when it comes to Civil Asset Forfeiture. However, making the decision to settle is extremely case specific. Some cases must proceed into litigation and ultimately trial because they cannot be settled.
If your Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney has done a great job, all or some of your property may be returned at this stage.
Stage 4: Litigation and Trial
Your case will probably resolve in court if it has not settled by this point in time. This means your attorney and the Government will be exchanging civil discovery, interrogatories, requests to produce, request for admissions, as well as depositions.
Your Civil Forfeiture Defense Attorney may also ask the judge to dismiss the forfeiture lawsuit, exclude evidence, or grant other requests that weaken the Government’s case or strengthen your own.
If the case is not dismissed at this stage, the parties may engage in further settlement discussions. Otherwise, it will proceed to trial.
Stage 5: Appeal
Depending on what happened at trial, the loser may pursue an appeal. The appellate process can take many months or even years, depending on the nature of the issues. Appeals are very case specific and will vary greatly from case to case.
Have Questions? Contact Us!
We offer a free consultation. Get your questions answered: 954-462-3636