We typically think of government forfeitures involving the seizure of money or fancy vehicles from suspected drug dealers pursuant to an arrest.
This is not always the case.
A person found to be traveling with lots of cash, or a small business owner who regularly makes bank deposits of $10,000 or less, such as a restaurant or grocery store owner, can be thrust into a government forfeiture action, based on nothing more than a hunch of wrongdoing.
The government ultimately bears the burden to prove that it is entitled to keep the cash.
However, the owner, also known as the claimant, must jump through hoops and meet strict deadlines to challenge the seizure.
A claimant who doesn’t hire a lawyer, thinking he or she has done nothing wrong, may fail to comply with the rules and deadlines to properly assert a claim.
In a federal administrative forfeiture action, the claimant must file what is known as a claim of ownership, and must do so thirty (30) days after receiving notice in the mail that the government has seized the asset(s).
The claim must identify the specific property claimed and state the claimant’s interest in the property.
The claim must be made under oath by the claimant (not counsel) under penalty of perjury consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 1746.
A claim found to be frivolous may subject the claimant to hefty civil fines.
Failure to comply with these requirements may deny a claimant the ability to contest the forfeiture in court.
Litigating civil forfeitures can be very costly and time consuming.
A prompt and proactive response on behalf of a claimant can make all the difference between a quick return of the assets versus protracted litigation where the end result is uncertain.