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Navigating the Labyrinth of Asset Forfeiture in Washington: A Guide to the Innocent Owner Defense (How to Get My Cash Back)

by | May 1, 2024 | Evidence, Federal

In Washington State, the specter of asset forfeiture looms large, allowing the government to seize property on the suspicion it’s tied to criminal activity—no conviction required. However, you’re not powerless if caught in this net. Understanding the innocent owner defense can be your key to fighting back.

Step 1: Understanding the Basics

Asset forfeiture in Washington can proceed through either civil or criminal channels, often initiated before any criminal charges are laid against the property owner. The state’s broad legal framework, including laws like RCW 10.105.010 and RCW 69.50.505, empowers law enforcement to seize property linked to felonies, especially drug-related offenses, on a mere “preponderance of the evidence” standard—meaning it’s more likely than not that the property is connected to a crime.

Step 2: Deploying the Innocent Owner Defense

If your property is ensnared, the innocent owner defense is your shield. This defense hinges on proving a lack of knowledge and consent concerning the alleged criminal use of your property. You must demonstrate that you neither knew of nor approved the illicit activities purportedly linked to your property. Succeeding in this defense can prevent the forfeiture of your assets, maintaining your property rights intact.

Step 3: Engage a Skilled Attorney

The complexity of asset forfeiture laws and the daunting prospect of facing a well-resourced government agency mean that having a proficient defense attorney is crucial. Lawyers skilled in this area, such as those at Smith & White, PLLC, can offer the strategic advice and robust defense necessary to challenge the forfeiture.

Step 4: Stay Informed and Prepared

Despite recent audits highlighting issues like a lack of transparency and the disproportionate impact on certain communities, significant reforms have stalled​ (Washington State Auditor)​​ (Cascade PBS News)​. This underscores the importance of staying informed and proactive about your rights and the legal processes affecting them.

Conclusion: Protect Your Property

While the Washington government maintains extensive powers to seize assets, these are not without limits. By understanding the legal landscape, particularly the innocent owner defense, and enlisting competent legal help, you stand a better chance of protecting your property from forfeiture.

For detailed discussions or to schedule a consultation, reach out to the capable team at Smith & White, PLLC, available in Tacoma. WA.