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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.

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.

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.