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Your Property Was Bad And Needs To Be Punished
Doesn't that sound ridiculous? Unfortunately, the police and the courts think otherwise. Worse yet, law enforcement seems to be under the delusion that anyone carrying cash is a drug dealer - and seizes the property accordingly.
But it's not a lost cause when the cops take your stuff. Even if they just seized a small amount of cash, it is possible to get it back!
They depend on you giving up hope...don't.
Washington's drug forfeiture statute allows police to seize your property whenever they think it was used, or was intended to be used, to violate the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. See RCW 69.50.505. Simply possessing cash is not legally sufficient to prove drug dealing, but possessing even a personal use amount of a controlled substance along with cash may be enough evidence to seize your property, forcing you to fight to get it back.
If you have had property seized and are worried about criminal charges, contact an attorney to learn how to use forfeiture actions to your advantage.
Forfeiture cases are civil actions against property, not persons, leading to funny sounding case names like Tellevik v. 31641 W. Rutherford St., 120 Wn.2d 68 (1992). Unlike a criminal case against a person, the government does not need to prove its case "beyond a resonable doubt" and there is no right to a jury. If it appears to a judge that your property was "more likely than not" involved in a drug crime, it can be forfeited. If the situation can be viewed as suspicious, it is up to you to present the judge with sufficient evidence of another explanation or prove you were unaware of the unlawful activity.
Forfeiture cases move quickly and if you don't move fast enough you can lose your property forever - even if the police can't show any wrongdoing at all. In Washington, the government has 15 days from the day it takes your property to notify you in writing that it intends to forfeit the property under the drug forfeiture statute. Once they have sent notice, it is up to you to claim an interest in your property. For personal property you have 45 days to ask for a hearing; for real estate your deadline is 90 days. These deadlines are set in stone. If you miss them, you lose - forever.
If you make a timely claim, the government sets a hearing. For personal property the "judge" is just the police chief or his appointed "hearing examiner." You have the option of "removing" the case to district or superior court. Doing so is often beneficial, but you have only 45 days to do it. Once removed, or if involving real property, your claim is heard by a real judge and the police must follow the rules of evidence and discovery rather than relying on whatever was written in their reports.
The less formal process of administrative hearings can feel like you just need to explain youself and everything will come out fine. That couldn't be further from the truth. Unfortunately, it is often too late once you've gone through it alone and lost. The "record" of the hearing is set in stone and all appeals are based on whatever you presented at that hearing. There are no do-overs.
Even if the amount of property at issue seems small, do not hesitate to consult with a lawyer. My firm does not view any amount too small to fight for, but you have to make your claim. Discuss your options with an attorney before the deadlines pass. Don't give up your property without a fight. Call or email me if your property had been seized. I want to help you get it back.
You have only a short amount of time to act before your property becomes their property, so talk with an attorney immediately. The deadline to make your claim comes and goes very fast.
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