If you are convicted of a crime, the state government can seize property that was used to carry out the crime or that comprises the proceeds of the crime. A significant percentage of the proceeds from such seizures go into the coffers of law enforcement agencies, while a portion is given to local charities such as those providing drug treatment services.
The federal government also pursues forfeiture actions. When it succeeds in a civil forfeiture action, the federal government shares a portion of the assets with the local law enforcement agency that assisted the federal law enforcement agency. Critics of civil forfeiture claim that state and federal forfeiture laws provide an incentive for law enforcement agencies to seize property.
Recently, Colorado enacted changes to its civil forfeiture laws putting limits on the size of federal forfeiture seizures it will accept. This should force the state to focus on larger and more serious crimes, rather than smaller ones.
Colorado vs. federal asset seizure laws
The state initiates civil asset forfeiture actions in a wide range of cases including those involving illegal gambling, prostitution, and human trafficking, though most involve drug trafficking crimes.
As stated above, Colorado can only seize assets after it has obtained a conviction. In addition, the law puts the onus on the state to prove that the assets in question was used to commit a crime or were the proceeds of a crime - and that the owner of the assets was involved in the crime, knew about the crime or should have about the crime. This online document published by the Colorado Legislative Council Staff provides a concise summary of state and federal asset seizure laws.
By contrast, federal law allows assets to be seized even before it has secured a conviction. And it's up to the owner of the assets to prove that the assets were legally obtained. A Colorado asset seizure action is pursued against the owner of the assets, while a federal seizure action is pursued against the assets themselves.
Though Colorado and a number of other states have reformed or are in the process of reforming their civil forfeiture laws, the federal government is going the other way. Recently, the federal Department of Justice has just reinstated its policy of sharing proceeds of civil asset seizures with local law enforcement agencies.
Not every criminal attorney represents people in civil forfeiture defense matters, but many do. If your defense attorney does not handle such cases, he or she can undoubtedly refer you to one who does.