It probably doesn’t surprise you that the police have the power to seize your property, as long as they have legal permission to do so and the property is related to a criminal investigation. What you might not know -- unless it’s happened to you -- is that law enforcement agencies often keep what they take, including suspects’ bank accounts, cars and other valuables. Even when the suspect is never convicted of a crime.
It’s called “asset forfeiture,” and it is a controversial police power. At the federal level, agents do not have to return you property to you if you are acquitted or never even charged with a crime. It is often difficult to get your items back, and many critics say asset forfeiture is an abuse of government power.
New Colorado law
A new law in Colorado significantly restricts the ability of police in the state to use asset forfeiture to enrich their departments. As U.S. News and World Report explains, the new law:
- Forbids state police agencies from sharing seized assets with federal agencies if the total value of the property is less than $50,000
- Requires police to report all asset forfeitures to the state and explain what the department spent the money on
- Funnels more cases involving asset forfeiture in to Colorado state court. State law already requires the return of assets to the suspect when no conviction occurs
Asset forfeiture is a significant part of many law enforcement agencies’ budgets. The U.S. Department of Justice reported that departments in 42 states received $4.4 million in assets from arrested people in fiscal year 2014-15 alone.
Your stuff matters. So does your freedom.
People who have been convicted of a crime should not be “punished” by losing their rightly owned property. Of course, someone charged with a crime often faces even more serious matters, like the possibility of going to jail. Which is why having an experienced defense attorney can make a huge difference in your future.