What Is Civil Asset Forfeiture?

Here at Probst Law Office, we offer criminal defense attorney services in Columbus, Ohio. When you need legal help, you want the best in your corner. We’ve been practicing for over 16 years, and have the knowledge and dedication necessary to defend your case. Here, we thought we would go over one of the lesser known aspects of criminal law: civil asset forfeiture.

A Criminal Charge?

Civil asset forfeiture is not a criminal charge, but a civil one, in regards to the owner of the property. The practice of civil asset forfeiture involves charging a persons property with a crime, allowing it to be seized without having to charge the owner. Proponents of the practice argue that it is a tool for combating organized crime, while detractors note perverse incentives and circumvention of the Fourth Amendment. The practice is mostly applied during traffic stops, but houses, bank accounts, and vehicles have all been seized in other circumstances. Civil asset forfeiture has increased in frequency all across the country over the past decades. One study found that of all the peoples whose assets were seized through forfeiture, 85 percent of the owners were not ever charged with a crime.

What Happens to the Money?

Any money or belongings asserted to have been a part of criminal activity can be seized in civil asset forfeiture. After law enforcement acquires the forfeiture, the legal onus is then on the owner to prove in court that their belongings were not part of a crime in order to get their belongings back. If the owner fails to prove the innocence of their belongings, law enforcement can use the proceeds for drug education, restitution payments of crime victims, prosecutorial costs, LEO equipment, law enforcement expenses, investigative activities, or even to school budgets, depending on the state’s laws where it was seized.

What To Do If Property Is Taken

If your property is taken, the police will retain it until you can prove it was both not involved in criminal activity, and that you had no knowledge that the property was being used in the facilitation of a crime (or took reasonable action to prevent such use). The vast majority of civil asset forfeitures end administratively, meaning that it’s forfeited automatically when the owners fail to challenge the seizure within a certain period. Furthermore, law enforcement can procure a waiver to bar owners from filing forfeiture proceedings.

Even when forfeiture proceedings are filed, they come with filing costs and lawyer fees. Oftentimes, proving a property’s innocence isn’t feasible based on the circumstances, and people will be advised against challenging a forfeiture.


If you have been a victim of civil asset forfeiture, and need a Columbus criminal defense attorney in your corner, trust the professionals at Probst Law Office. We have the knowledge and experience necessary to take on your case. For more information, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at your earliest convenience. One of our friendly and knowledgeable representatives will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.