Understanding Civil Asset Forfeiture in New Jersey

If you were arrested or charged with a crime — or were even suspected of having committed a crime — the police can seize any items related to that alleged crime. This may be contraband that police believe was gained through illegal activity or it may be a car, computer, or other piece of property that was used to commit a crime. While the seized property is sometimes contraband that has a reason to be confiscated, it is common for police to seize property that does not need to be seized or to keep property even after a defendant has been acquitted of all charges.

If you have had your property unjustly seized by police in New Jersey, you should seek legal representation as soon as possible.

The civil asset forfeiture lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych can help you retrieve the property that belongs to you from the police. Call our law offices today at (609) 616-4956 to set up a free consultation.

Property that May Be Seized by Police

There are three types of property that police are able to seize from people who are arrested or charged for crimes or merely suspected of having committed a crime. Seized property that has been supposedly linked to a crime is referred to as “ill-gotten gains.” The property that police may seize is the following.

  • Police may seize any contraband that was used in relation to a crime. This includes controlled substances and paraphernalia, illegal firearms, untaxed cigarettes, illegal gambling devices, illegal wildlife, and bootleg merchandise.
  • Police may also seize any proceeds made from an illegal activity, such as cash gained from selling drugs, soliciting prostitution, or participating in illegal gambling.
  • Property that was used or intended to be used to commit a crime may be seized by police. This may be a getaway car used to escape the scene of a crime or a computer used to conduct nefarious financial dealings. In some cases, police may even be able to seize your home.

Seized items that are illegal to possess are known as prima facie contraband. Proceeds earned from illegal activities and property, that was used or intended to be used to commit a crime, are known as derivative contraband.

Common Examples of Property Seized in Civil Asset Forfeiture Cases in New Jersey

There are certain types of property that are regularly seized as part of civil asset forfeiture cases. Our New Jersey civil asset forfeiture attorneys can help defend against seizure for any of the following assets:


Cash is one of the most common type of assets seized through civil asset forfeiture cases in New Jersey. For example, a large sum of cash may be seized after being found during a traffic stop. Further, law enforcement officers may seize cash that they suspect is related to drug crimes. In many cases, cash is targeted because of its possible connection to transactions in illegal markets.


Vehicles are another common type of property seized in civil asset forfeiture cases. Vehicles such as cars, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, planes, and boats can all be taken from defendants. If there is a suspicion that the vehicle at issue was involved in criminal activity or was purchased with illegal proceeds, then it may be seized. Vehicles are regularly targeted because they were used to transport illegal goods or facilitate specific criminal operations.

Real Estate/Homes

Finally, real estate is often seized as part of the civil asset forfeiture process. For instance, houses, commercial buildings, and undeveloped land can all be seized from defendants. If the government has reason to believe that certain property was purchased with illegal proceeds or was used in connection with a crime, then the property may be seized. Real estate is frequently targeted because of its involvement in money laundering schemes.

The Forfeiture Process

Prima facie contraband, after it has been seized, is not returned to the person to whom it belonged. Derivative contraband, however, results in the issuance of a forfeiture complaint from the state. This forfeiture complaint is a type of lawsuit that explains why the seized items are contraband and how you are directly linked. This complaint names you, the defendant, as an owner of the property or a person of interest in relation to the property.

This must be served to you within 90 days of the seizure of the property. You must respond to the complaint within 35 days by filing an answer and sending one copy to your county prosecutor.

After you respond to the forfeiture complaint, you will have to appear in court. The state will have to prove that there is a connection between you and the criminal act. You, in return, will have to prove that the seized property was not used for an unlawful activity or earned through an illegal act. If you are the owner of a piece of property that was seized but were not aware that it was being used in a criminal act (if, for example, someone borrowed a car you own to commit a robbery without telling you), then you will be deemed an “innocent owner” and the property will no longer be seized.

A person does not have to have been charged with a crime to have their property permanently seized. If a judge determines that law enforcement had enough proof to seize your property, then the state does not have to return it to you, even if you are found to be innocent of the crime that you were charged with.

How an Attorney Can Help Your Civil Asset Forfeiture Case

An attorney can help defendants retrieve their property from police in certain cases. Police are able to seize property even if the defendant is never arrested or charged. If they are eventually acquitted of a charge, it is possible for seized property to be held under a separate civil lawsuit.

In many jurisdictions, police keep cash and other assets as a way to fund their departments. In New Jersey, 100 percent of proceeds from civil asset forfeitures are retained by police. It is in the direct financial interest of the police to be obstinate about returning property to people from they’ve seized it.

In most cases, the only way to retrieve property that was seized by police is to present a legal challenge. People who have had their property seized even though they were acquitted of a charge or were never arrested or charged with a crime should use the help of an attorney to present a legal challenge. People who have property seized that was unrelated to the crime they committed should seek legal help as well.

Examples of Defenses Used in New Jersey Civil Asset Forfeiture Cases

There are multiple ways that you may be able to contest a civil asset forfeiture case. For instance, the following are all examples of strategies that may be utilized:

Challenging Probable Cause

First, you may defend against civil asset forfeiture by arguing that law enforcement did not have probable cause to initiate the process. There are multiple ways that our legal team can scrutinize the evidence used to support the seizure of your property. In order to determine the proper course of action in your case, we must thoroughly investigate your case and analyze the search and seizure procedures that were implemented.

The Innocent Owner Defense

Also, you may contest civil asset forfeiture by employing the innocent owner defense. If you were not involved in any criminal activity connected to the seized assets or had no knowledge of such activity, then you may avoid forfeiture.

If you believe that you can establish the innocent owner defense, then the team at our firm will gather evidence to support your claim. We can help demonstrate that you had legitimate, lawful ownership of the property at issue and were unaware of any connection to criminal conduct.

Asserting Violations of Constitutional Rights

Finally, you may avoid civil asset forfeiture by asserting that your constitutional rights were violated. In order to employ this defense, you must examine whether law enforcement agencies abided by certain procedural safeguards when searching for and seizing your property. If any of your constitutional rights were violated, then you may seek to have your civil asset forfeiture case dismissed.

What is the Difference Between Civil Asset Forfeiture and Criminal Asset Forfeiture in New Jersey?

If you are facing a potential seizure of your assets, it is important to understand the differences between civil asset forfeiture and criminal asset forfeiture. They are two distinct processes, each with their own set of rules and implications.

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process where law enforcement agencies take possession of property or assets that are allegedly connected to a criminal activity. The process may be initiated even when the property owner at issue has not been convicted of a crime.

During a civil asset forfeiture case, the government only need to establish their case by a preponderance of the evidence. Simply put, the government must prove that it is more likely than not that the property being seized is connected to a criminal activity. This burden of proof is lower than the one imposed on the government in criminal cases.

Additionally, law enforcement agencies may retain a portion of the assets seized during a civil asset forfeiture case. The proceeds acquired through civil asset forfeiture are usually used to fund various law enforcement projects and initiatives, creating a possible conflict of interest in some cases. If your property was seized, then our legal team can investigate your case to determine if your rights were violated.

Criminal Asset Forfeiture

Meanwhile, the criminal asset forfeiture process is closely tied to criminal proceedings. Typically, this process is initiated after a defendant has been convicted or entered a guilty plea. It involves the seizure of assets or property that have been used to conduct criminal activities as part of the evidence seizure.

In a criminal asset forfeiture case, the government must demonstrate that the property at issue is directly linked to criminal activities. However, they must satisfy a much more challenging burden of proof. Rather than merely establishing their case by a preponderance of the evidence, the government must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Criminal asset forfeiture serves as a sort of additional penalty for convicted defendants. Proceeds obtained through criminal asset forfeiture are generally used to compensate victims or they are awarded to various public funds.

Contact a New Jersey Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney

If the police have seized your property as part of a civil asset forfeiture, even though you were not involved in any unlawful activity, you should seek the help of an attorney as soon as possible. Contact the New Jersey civil forfeiture attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych. They offer free consultations; schedule one today by calling (609) 616-4956.

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