People who are facing criminal charges in a federal court are likely aware that they may face jail time or probation if they are found guilty of the crime of which they are accused. What is less well-known, however, is that a federal conviction can also bring with it a distinctive form of penalty: asset forfeiture. This allows the federal government, in some circumstances, to seize assets related to a crime of which a defendant has been convicted without reimbursement or compensation. Because of the far-reaching consequences of this rule, it is important that people facing federal prosecution seek experienced legal representation. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer William J. Reddin has over three decades of experience and can take an aggressive approach towards protecting your assets against forfeiture.Protecting Your Rights against Asset Forfeiture
Federal law permits the U.S. Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies like the FBI to seize property from individuals who have been convicted of certain federal crimes. Property is defined broadly in this context and can include cars, homes, money, artwork, or any other assets that are related to the crime. To constitute assets “related” to the criminal activity, the property must have been:
- Used in the commission of the crime, such as a getaway car;
- Purchased with the proceeds of the criminal activity; or
- Earned from the criminal activity, such as a gift or bribe given in relation to the crime.
The principle behind these laws is that asset forfeiture serves as an additional punishment for a defendant that may deter others from engaging in similar activity.
Not every federal criminal charge allows for the seizure of assets. Instead, the federal statute on which the criminal charge is based must explicitly allow for asset forfeiture. Currently, this includes crimes such as drug trafficking, organized crimes, money laundering, and child pornography. Federal charges of copyright infringement also provide for asset forfeiture. It is even possible under some circumstances for the Government to initiate forfeiture proceedings without charging someone with the commission of a crime. However, notice must be given to potential owners to allow them to challenge the forfeiture of the assets. It is important to contact a lawyer if you wish to challenge a forfeiture, as there are complicated procedures and important deadlines for making a valid claim. In Wisconsin, there is also the possibility of the State filing a lawsuit to seize assets under certain circumstances. Again, if you receive notice of such a lawsuit and you believe you have a valid claim to the property, it is important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
The most obvious defense against the seizure of assets is to show that the assets were not related to criminal activity in any way. If the assets were not used during the crime and were not received as a result of the crime, they do not fall within the purview of the federal government’s seizure powers. For example, if a defendant can provide a receipt for the purchase of an item long before the crime occurred, he or she may be able to show that it was not purchased as criminal proceeds.
When the property is owned jointly with another individual or has subsequently been purchased by additional owners, an innocent owner defense is also available under federal law. If the present owner can show that he or she did not know that the item was related to criminal activity, or that it was used in such activity without his or her consent, this can be a basis for avoiding asset forfeiture. Thus, for instance, if an SUV was used in the commission of a crime, but it was then sold to a new owner for profit without the new owner knowing about the history of the vehicle, the new owner may constitute an innocent buyer whose property cannot be confiscated.Seek Representation from a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Milwaukee
Asset forfeiture laws are often broadly and aggressively applied by federal agencies, and they may be used to obtain property that may seem only tangentially related to the commission of a crime. Defendants who wish to protect their property may benefit from the guidance of an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, William J. Reddin has assisted many defendants in evaluating their exposure to potential asset seizure by federal prosecutors and developing a strategy to fight back against forfeiture if the government seeks it. To set up a free consultation with a federal offenses attorney, contact our office online or at (414) 271-6400. We represent people in Mequon, Racine, West Bend, Port Washington, Waukesha, and other communities throughout Ozaukee, Racine, Milwaukee, Washington, and Waukesha Counties.