Property Seizure

What is seizure of property? The seizure of property in the context of asset forfeitures is the taking of private property by the government.

Property Seizure with a Warrant

A property seizure may occur when property subject to forfeiture is seized via a seizure warrant. In the federal system, seizure warrants are authorized for most property subject to forfeiture to the United States. 18 USC 981 (b)(1). In Texas, property seizure laws state “property subject to forfeiture… may be seized by any peace officer under authority of a search warrant.” Art. 59.03 Tex.Crim.Pro.

Property Seizure Without a Warrant

In addition, property may be seized without a warrant under most search warrant exception theories such as searches incident to arrest, or inventory searches, or searches performed under exigent circumstances.

This means that property seizure is not only done to collect and preserve evidence for a prosecution. Also, federal agents and local police officers are entitled under property seizure laws to take property in hopes of forfeiting (or keeping) it outright. This gives government agencies that are strapped for cash a tremendous incentive to seize and forfeit property.

Procedure for Property Seizure

In terms of legal procedure, seizures are typically the triggering event in any forfeiture case. This has a tremendous impact on deadlines that dictate most forfeiture proceedings. In other words, once an officer takes property then the State, or federal government, must send notice to potential claimants (owners/possessors) within strict time deadlines.

In Texas, the State must send notice to claimants within 30 days of seizure. Art. 59.04 Tex.Crim.Pro. In the federal system, a Government agency intending to pursue administrative forfeiture must send notice within 60 days of seizure. However, if the forfeiture is the result of a federal adoption, then that agency has 90 days to send notice.

What is Administrative Forfeiture?

In the federal system an agency, such as the IRS or the FBI, may try to forfeit property without going to court. This is authorized under 18 USC 983 (a)(1). However, if a claimant comes forward and makes a claim to that property then the Government must refer the case to a United States Attorney’s Office to pursue judicial forfeiture. If the USAO takes the case then it has an additional 90 days to file a judicial complaint in federal court. 18 USC 983(a)(3).

Procedure for Administrative Forfeiture

If either the State or the Government miss their deadlines then the forfeiture is generally estopped. However, claimants face the same deadline pressures.

In a state case, a claimant must file an answer before the Monday after the 20th days has passed since seizure. If that claimant, or respondent as is the proper term in a state case, fails to meet the deadline then the State keeps the property by default.

Similarly, in the federal system claimants have 35 days to make a claim after receiving notice of an administrative forfeiture. Even if they comply with this deadline, such claimants will have to make a second claim within 30 days of receiving notice of a judicial forfeiture. 18 USC 983(a)(4).

Property Forfeiture by Default

Nearly 85% of property that is seized is forfeited to the Government via default. This illustrates the power that these deadlines hold and the utmost importance of timely filing a claim.

If you have recieved a Notice of Intended Forfeiture and your property was seized, contact us imediately at (817) 203-2220 or online:

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