Must you forfeit your assets after a drug trafficking conviction?
There is no doubt that a federal drug trafficking conviction results in serious penalties. Not only do you face a minimum 10-year federal prison sentence, but also a $5 million fine and forfeiture of any of your assets directly related to the crime.
Per the U.S. Department of Justice, the purposes of forfeiture are threefold as follows:
- To deprive you of the proceeds of your crime
- To recover property with which to compensate crime victims and act as a deterrent against similar crimes
- To financially curtail the profits of organized crime syndicates and drug cartels
How forfeiture works
In a criminal forfeiture such as the one you face, forfeiture usually applies to financial assets, but could also apply to such things as your home and vacation homes, your business assets, your vehicles and recreational vehicles, and your boats.
In order to obtain a preliminary order of forfeiture, the prosecution must prove a direct connection between the assets it wishes to seize and the crime or crimes for which it convicted you. Unlike the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard of proof required for a criminal conviction, the standard of proof for forfeiture is a preponderance of the evidence. For this much lower standard, the prosecutor needs to prove only that the connection between your crime and the assets in question is more likely than not. In other words, a 51% likelihood is sufficient.
Having obtained the preliminary forfeiture order, the government must then file an ancillary action to determine if any third-party ownership interests exist in the property it seeks to seize.