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Civil forfeiture: When your property can be legally taken

The idea that the police can seize your money, jewelry or car just because they merely suspect that you might be planning to commit a crime or that those assets are somehow related to crime seems like something out of a dystopian nightmare -- not something that occurs regularly in the United States.

However, that's exactly what the Department of Justice (DOJ) is encouraging. It doesn't have to permit it, because most states already have their own civil forfeiture laws that already allow the police to seize money and property that could be related to crime. However, the new regulations from the DOJ just gives them more incentive to do it.

Previously, anything the police seized was supposed to be turned over for auction, and all cash went toward one or more funds within the state of seizure. Now, thanks to the DOJ, the police get to keep a portion of those assets.

Keep in mind, you don't actually have to be suspected of or charged with a specific crime to have your assets seized. What amounts to "reasonable" suspicion is entirely up to the officer in question at the time a seizure is made -- and that's all it takes.

For example, assume that you're heading out on vacation with an envelope full of cash that's meant to keep your hands off your credit cards. If you're pulled over by police and they notice that cash, that just might be money you intend to buy drugs or weapons with on the black market -- which means they can seize it.

Object too loudly and the police might seize your car, leaving you stranded -- or threaten to arrest you instead of letting you leave, which would put your kids automatically in the social services system of a different state than where you live.

If you want your money back, you have to go through an administrative appeal, or court -- although that court is probably in a different state than you live, so you'll be lucky if you can recover even a portion of what was taken without legal help.

Don't allow yourself to be victimized -- if you're threatened with civil forfeiture or had your assets taken, talk to a criminal defense attorney today.

Source: NBC News, "Jeff Sessions Removes Restrictions on Controversial Police Seizures," Jon Schuppe, accessed Aug. 31, 2017

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