Washington governmental agencies are legally permitted to seize a person’s assets under certain circumstances, and the person may be required to forfeit any right to the assets. As you might not know, in many cases, a criminal conviction is not needed for the government to force a person to forfeit his or her assets. Even if a governmental agency is acting pursuant to the law in seizing assets, however, the value of the property seized must bear some relationship to the crime that was allegedly committed. If a seizure constitutes an excessive fine, the person from whom the property was seized may be able to successfully advocate for its return. If you are faced with the potential forfeiture of your assets, it is essential to consult a skillful Tacoma asset forfeiture defense lawyer to understand your rights. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Smith & White, PLLC are diligent in protecting the citizens of Washington from unjust asset forfeiture. We frequently represent parties in asset forfeiture proceedings in Tacoma and other cities in Pierce, King, Kitsap, and Thurston Counties.Washington Laws Regarding Asset Forfeiture
Under Washington law, assets can be seized and forfeited through criminal or civil proceedings. Most of the assets that are seized and forfeited under Washington law are taken pursuant to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 69.50.505. Under 69.50.505, governmental agencies can seize a variety of assets, including land, real estate, vehicles, and money, from a person who is charged with or suspected of committing a drug crime. The property must either be used for the manufacturing, buying, or selling of a controlled substance or acquired with proceeds from the commission of a drug crime. Property can also be seized under RCW 10.105.010 if it was used or intended to be used in the commission of a felony, or if it is a reward or compensation for committing a felony. Forfeitures under RCW 10.105.010 and RCW 69.50.505 are considered civil forfeitures. Other Washington statutes permit the government to seize assets in connection with criminal charges and convictions as well.State and Federal Constitutional Protections Against Excessive Fines
While governmental agencies are permitted to seize assets in relation to crimes or suspected crimes, the government’s civil asset forfeiture rights are not without limits. If the forfeiture is not in proportion to the crime, or if the assets seized are not connected to the crime alleged, it may constitute an excessive fine. Under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section Fourteen of the Washington State Constitution, the government is prohibited from imposing excessive fines. 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.
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 your property was seized, and you can prove that the value of the 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.Meet with a Knowledgeable Tacoma Attorney to Discuss Your Case
Washington residents are protected under both the state and federal constitutions from unjust acts perpetrated by the government, including excessive fines. If your assets have been seized, you should meet with an asset forfeiture defense lawyer to discuss your case. The seasoned criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Smith & White, PLLC will work tirelessly to help you prove that the forfeiture of your property would constitute an excessive fine and is improper. Our primary office is in Tacoma, and we are available by appointment at our secondary office in Vashon. You can reach us at 253-203-1645 or via our online form to schedule a meeting to discuss your case.