Criminal Forfeiture In Arizona
Did you know that in Arizona your property can be seized even if you do not face criminal charges? Law enforcement officers can seize any property they believe is involved in a crime. Examples are seizure of cars or homes, when the party purchasing those items used funds from illegal activities, such as drug crimes or fraud.
Your property can be seized even if you have no direct involvement in a crime. That is, if your family member commits crime and is placed under arrest while driving your vehicle, as an example. Your vehicle can be seized under criminal forfeiture law.
If you experience forfeiture despite not being involved in a crime or arrest, a criminal defense lawyer can help. You may be able to get your property back, with help from an attorney.
Search and Seizure in Arizona
Search and seizure by law enforcement applies to your body, home, car or business, when police seek information about criminal activity. When police find proof of crime, they can seize that proof. This applies to material goods, other property and even yourself, when you are placed under arrest.
Police can only intrude upon your personal property with a valid search warrant and under specific conditions, according to the Fourth Amendment. But if you give an officer permission to search your personal items, that search is legal. Probable cause also makes search legal, if the officer has strong cause to believe a crime has been committed.
Consent and the Plain View Doctrine
Consent gives the law enforcement officer the right to search your vehicle or property without a warrant. According to the Supreme Court, an encounter with an officer is a consensual one as long as a reasonable person would feel free to disregard the police and go about their own business. But most vehicle drivers do not feel comfortable refusing a police officer’s request to search their vehicle. Refusing consent to a search gives you a stronger case than consenting, if you possess something illegal in the trunk of your car, for example. Police officers need probable cause or reasonable suspicion of illegal conduct before searching in order to use gathered evidence against you.
The Plain View Doctrine applies when police pull you over for a moving violation and illegal drugs or other items are on a seat or otherwise in plain view of the officer making the traffic stop. The court uses a three-prong test to determine whether the Plain View Doctrine applies:
- Was the officer legally present?
- Did the law enforcement officer have lawful right of access to the object?
- Was the incriminating character of the perceived object apparent?
When these questions all are answered with “yes,” the Plain View Doctrine applies. In these circumstances, the officer does not need a warrant. This evidence may be used against you at trial. That is because the traffic stop itself provides reasonable suspicion that law violation has occurred or is in progress. But if the illegal item was in your backpack in the car, the Plain View Doctrine may not apply.
Another search warrant exception is “search incident to arrest.” If the police decide to arrest you for an illegal act, such as DUI, they may pat you down. Whatever they find during this pat down and in a search incident to arrest is admissible in a trial. Finding something on your person also may be valid reason to search your vehicle.
When your Fourth Amendment rights are not respected and a search is illegal, the courts cannot use information or evidence found in a case against you.
Civil and Criminal Forfeiture in Arizona
Many stories exist about Arizona law enforcement officers taking property and assets from people who are never convicted of committing crimes. One such example is a 2010 case of a woman acquitted of animal cruelty. She was forced to forfeit property as the judge believed probable cause existed, in the belief that illegal activity took place on that property. She lost her home under this forfeiture.
This happens all too often in Arizona. Law enforcement revenue increased from $11.8 million in 2000 to over $50 million in 2011, because of these types of seizures.
What to Do If Your Property Is Forfeited in Arizona
If your property has been forfeited and you believe it was an unnecessary seizure, you need help from a criminal defense lawyer. This attorney helps you fight to regain your property, using criminal and civil forfeiture laws to your advantage. If police seized your property but you have not been convicted of crime, you may be able to get your property back.