New Jersey Criminal Attorneys: Civil Forfeiture
Former New Jersey Prosecutor
If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense in New Jersey, your property including, but not limited to, cash, car and/or home, may be subject to what is known as a "civil forfeiture" under certain circumstances. Our legal team includes seasoned Middlesex County Criminal Defense Attorneys and elsewhere, and they are ready to address the seizure of their property. It is imperative, however, that individuals in this position take swift action to retain an attorney as there are strict time limits for defending and contesting a forfeiture action. Our office can provide you with guidance and representation statewide including Middlesex County, Ocean County, Monmouth County, Union County, Somerset County, Essex County, Mercer County and Hudson County.
The New Jersey Civil Forfeiture Law
The New Jersey Civil Forfeiture Law is contained at N.J.S.A. 2C:64-1 and provides that:
a. Any interest in the following shall be subject to forfeiture and no property right shall exist in them:
(1) Controlled dangerous substances, firearms which are unlawfully possessed, carried, acquired or used, illegally possessed gambling devices, untaxed cigarettes, untaxed special fuel, unlawful sound recordings and audiovisual works and items bearing a counterfeit mark. These shall be designated prima facie contraband.
(2) All property which has been, or is intended to be, utilized in furtherance of an unlawful activity, including, but not limited to, conveyances intended to facilitate the perpetration of illegal acts, or buildings or premises maintained for the purpose of committing offenses against the State.
(3) Property which has become or is intended to become an integral part of illegal activity, including, but not limited to, money which is earmarked for use as financing for an illegal gambling enterprise.
(4) Proceeds of illegal activities, including, but not limited to, property or money obtained as a result of the sale of prima facie contraband as defined by subsection a. (1), proceeds of illegal gambling, prostitution, bribery and extortion.
Two types of property may be seized and forfeited under the statute: (1) contraband which was an essential element of the underlying criminal offense such as drugs, guns, gambling proceeds, etc.; and (2) property used in the commission of a criminal activity such as a car or real property. Where the state is attempting to forfeit property which was allegedly used in the commission of a crime or was the fruit of a crime, the state must file a forfeiture complaint within 90 days of seizure of the property. In the action, the state must prove that the property seized was either used or was intended to be used in furtherance of an unlawful activity, or that the property constitutes the proceeds of an illegal activity. The state bears the burden of proof in this lawsuit and must establish that the property was connected to the criminal activity. In this regard, the required relationship must be more than a mere causal connection; there must be a dependency between the criminal activity and the property.
If innocent third parties possess a security interest in the subject property, such as a loan, leasing agreement or letter of credit, the forfeiture action can typically be defeated. Additionally, property owned by a third party generally cannot be forfeited where the owner of the property was not involved in or aware of the criminal activity, and could not reasonably be expected to prevent the use of the property in the criminal activity.
The Law Offices of John F. Marshall is often contacted by individuals who have not only been charged with a NJ criminal offense but have also had their property seized and are facing the daunting prospect of losing their house or their car in a forfeiture action. Our criminal defense lawyers are experienced litigators and are prepared to assist individuals in protecting property that has been seized by the police, prosecutor, state or attorney general. Please do not hesitate to contact our office to arrange a free initial consultation with one of our New Jersey attorneys for your Middlesex County, Ocean County, Monmouth County, Somerset County, Union County, Essex County, Mercer County or Hudson County case.