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What is civil asset forfeiture?

On Behalf of | Dec 16, 2023 | Criminal Defense

An encounter with law enforcement may end in someone’s arrest. Other times, it could lead to the loss of their property. The average person who loses a valuable asset or a large amount of cash to the police in Illinois doesn’t expect that to happen.

Most people are familiar with the idea that the state can cease assets acquired through criminal activity or used for criminal purposes. Those prosecuted for serious criminal offenses often forfeit assets connected to the crime after their convictions. What fewer people realize is that the state does not need to prosecute or even arrest someone to potentially seize valuable property ranging from cash to vehicles. Thousands of people in Illinois every year lose personal assets to police officers because of civil asset forfeiture.

When can the police take someone’s property?

Civil asset forfeiture is the legal process through which Illinois police officers seize assets that belong to individuals and businesses without prosecuting them. Police departments around Illinois obtain millions of dollars in funding every year through civil asset forfeiture, a process that could very easily violate someone’s rights.

The state has reformed its laws. Those concerned about civil asset forfeiture in Illinois may be happy to hear that lawmakers have made some changes to the highly-problematic state civil asset forfeiture statute in recent years. The bad news is that those reforms do not go far enough to fully protect people from potential abuses.

Legal reform has done away with the practice of requiring a bond to reclaim seized property. However, police departments can directly profit from the resources they seize through civil asset forfeiture. The state still does not require a criminal conviction or even criminal charges to take assets from someone. An individual traveling with a large amount of cash to purchase a vehicle, for example, could end up being pulled over by the police and losing that money. Officers could justify seizing it if they suspect it came from or was intended for criminal purposes.

It is possible for someone who loses property via civil asset forfeiture to redeem it, but that process can be complex and protracted. Learning more about the shortcomings in Illinois statutes, and seeking legal guidance accordingly, can help people better assert themselves after losing personal property to civil asset forfeiture.