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Providing Experienced Asset Forfeiture Defense In Tacoma

In addition to facing criminal penalties, a person convicted of or merely suspected of a crime may be forced to forfeit certain assets. Under state and federal laws, governmental agencies are permitted to seize any assets that they believe are related to the commission of a crime or were obtained through criminal activity or with the proceeds of criminal activity.

Although the law does permit the government to seize people’s assets, individuals faced with potential asset forfeiture have important rights. You can fight to retain your property with the assistance of our Tacoma asset forfeiture defense lawyers.

At The Law Offices of Smith & White, PLLC, we are proficient in contesting asset forfeiture. We regularly represent individuals in these matters throughout Pierce, King, Kitsap and Thurston counties. We are mindful that many people seeking assistance have already lost some or all of their property. Therefore, we take asset forfeiture cases on a contingency basis, so there is no up-front cost to our clients for our legal advocacy

What You Need To Know About Washington State Asset Forfeiture Laws

Although assets can be seized in connection with criminal convictions, the majority of asset seizures are civil in nature. Washington’s civil forfeiture laws allow the government to seize property that it believes is connected to criminal activity in a civil proceeding. Most often, Washington civil asset forfeitures are pursued under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 69.50.505. Under this provision, numerous assets can be seized from a person who is charged with or suspected of a drug offense, including controlled substances, raw materials used to create controlled substances, vehicles used to aid in the sale of controlled substances, and any money or securities involved in or obtained from a controlled substance crime. Real estate also can be seized under 69.50.505.

Property can be seized under other statutory provisions, and our asset forfeiture defense attorneys can assist Tacoma residents in these situations as well. For example, under RCW 10.105.010, property can be seized if it was used or intended to be used in the commission of a felony, or if it was a reward or compensation for committing a felony.

Defenses We Can Raise To Asset Forfeiture

Under Washington law, there are numerous defenses that a person potentially can raise in civil forfeiture proceedings. For example, under the innocent owner defense, the person can argue that the property in question was obtained through legal means or that he or she did not permit the property to be used to engage in criminal activity. A person can also fight asset forfeiture by showing that the statute failed to comply with the notice and deadline requirements set forth under the law. Under both RCW 10.105.010(3) and RCW 69.50.505(3), the government must notify a person of the seizure of his or her assets within 15 days of the seizure. If the government fails to provide proper notice, the seizure may be improper.

Our Tacoma asset forfeiture defense attorneys also may be able to defend against asset forfeiture by showing that the state lacks the evidence needed to seize or keep an individual’s assets. The government agency that seizes a person’s property must have probable cause to believe that the property is related to criminal activity or was involved in a crime prior to seizing the property. If the entity that seized a person’s assets cannot meet this burden, the seizure may be improper. Similarly, to retain a person’s property, the government must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was used to perpetrate a crime or was obtained through criminal acts. Although the government’s burden of proof in asset forfeiture cases is not as high as the burden in criminal cases, it is still a meaningful burden. If the government fails to meet this burden, a person may be able to successfully argue for the return of his or her property.

You Have Protections Against Excessive Fines, We Can Help You Enforce Them

Even where the government has grounds for asset seizure, the value of those assets must bear some relationship to the crime that was allegedly committed. If a seizure is out of proportion or unreasonable, the subject of the property forfeiture can sue for the return of those assets. A court may determine that the assets seized constitute an excessive fine under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Section 14 of the Washington Constitution.

Since asset forfeiture essentially imposes a civil penalty for suspected criminal activity, when high-value property is seized in asset forfeiture proceedings, it often constitutes an excessive fine. Thus, under Washington law, whether a fine is excessive is determined by reviewing instrumentality and proportionality factors. Instrumentality factors include the role that the property played in the commission of the alleged crime, whether its use was planned or incidental, and the role of the property’s owner. A proportionality analysis weighs numerous factors, including the value and nature of the property, the effect of the forfeiture on the property owner, and the harm caused by the crime.

Thus, if we can prove that the value of your seized property is vastly disproportionate to the severity of the alleged crime and any penalties that may be imposed for a conviction of the crime, you may be able to prove that the seizure constitutes an excessive fine, even if the court finds that the property is likely related to the alleged crime. Additionally, if you can prove that the property taken does not have a substantial relationship to the crime alleged, it may be considered an excessive fine. Proving that the forfeiture of an asset constitutes an excessive fine is complicated and requires the assistance of a criminal defense attorney who is experienced in handling asset forfeiture matters.

In Some Cases, The Government May Be Required To Pay Your Attorney Fees

Many people are hesitant to hire a lawyer to fight asset forfeiture because they have already suffered a financial setback and do not want to incur legal fees on top of that. Under Washington law, you should be able to recover the cost of attorney fees if you prove that the seizure of your assets was unjust.

Allowing property owners to recover attorney fees is crucial to enabling them to mount a competent defense against the forfeiture of their assets without needing to worry about the cost of legal representation. The attorney fees provision of RCW 69.50.505 is designed to protect individuals from the wrongful seizure of their property. Under RCW 69.50.505, a person who wins in his or her civil asset forfeiture case is entitled to compensation for reasonable attorney fees they incurred. In other words, if you prove that the property was wrongfully seized, not only is your property returned to you but the government also reimburses your legal fees incurred in fighting the case.

Speak With A Knowledgeable Washington Attorney Regarding Your Options

Asset forfeiture is often unjust, and the process of fighting for the return of your property can be complicated and extended. The criminal defense attorneys at Smith & White will work diligently to help prove that your assets were inappropriately seized. We work on a contingency basis, which means that there is no cost to you unless your assets are recovered. We have an office in Tacoma, and we can meet clients by appointment at our second office in Vashon. You can contact us at 253-363-8662 or through the form online to set up a meeting with an asset forfeiture defense lawyer in the Tacoma area.