Forfeiture - How the government is taking innocent people's property

Forfeiture laws allow the government to seize and permanently take away your property (i.e., money, cars, etc.) if they suspect it has been used in, gotten from, or is somehow related to illegal activity, usually the drug trade. The way it usually works is cops stop someone on the side of the road and then develop probable cause to search the car. According to police reports, that usually means the driver appeared unusually nervous, couldn't give a good account of where he had been or was headed, or smelled of marijuana. The officer then gets the driver out of the car and searches it. If he finds a large amount of cash, even if the driver is not arrested or charged with anything, then the forfeiture wheels often begin turning.

The officer informs the driver that he suspects the money is related to the drug trade, and that he is taking it. The officer then hands the driver a form outlining the steps the driver must take to get the money back. (Sometimes they'll take the vehicle, too.) To make matters worse, there are extremely strict guidelines that can cause the property to become forever the government's if the person does not follow them.

There have been legislative efforts to slow down abuse of forfeiture laws by local law enforcement. Mississippi, for example, has new laws going into effect on July 1, 2017 that will add more transparency to the process. Unfortunately, the problems with forfeitures still remain in spite of these efforts and the possibility for an innocent person to lose a substantial amount of money still exists. If you or someone you know are dealing with a forfeiture issue, make sure you hire an attorney who is well-versed in this area of the law and has successfully retrieved property for clients in the past.

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