A quick guide to drug asset forfeiture in Washington
In this state, like many states, the police can attempt to forfeit your property if it was used or was proceeds of drug sales. RCW 69.50.505 allows the police to take your car, your money, or your home, all without you being charged with a crime. This is possible because the burden on a drug asset forfeiture is by a preponderance of the evidence while a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt. And make no doubt the police know this. Many police jurisdictions have sections that exist just for this purpose. You need to know there are things that you can do to get ahead of the police.
The law on asset forfeiture is complicated.
The law regarding drug asset forfeiture is complicated. There are issues regarding timing of notices. There are issues about when the hearing takes place. An attorney will know these rules and deadlines and take care of them without losing your case before its begun. Also, in some jurisdictions, the hearing examiner, the person who sits and decides whether the police asset forfeiture is valid, can be the chief of police or a captain or lieutenant of the police force, or someone from a neighboring police force. There are ways to combat this seeming unfairness, but you have to know them. An attorney will know them and be prepared to make sure your rights are protected. Also, all the rules regarding correct search and seizure law, a topic that fills books and books in law libraries, are in play and may work for your benefit. An attorney will know this.
You can place yourself at risk.
Depending on the nature of the charge, by requesting a hearing you can place yourself at risk for a criminal prosecution. You see, in a forfeiture hearing, you do NOT have the right to take the 5th Amendment. The attorney representing the police at the hearing can ask you questions, questions you maybe shouldn't be answering. An attorney can protect you from this and give you the best advice on how to prepare yourself.
You have to know the rules and defenses.
Many people come to these forfeiture hearings representing themselves and they claim to have evidence, receipts, tax returns, pay stubs for example. When asked to present it, they left it ahome because they didn't know they would need it. An attorney will know what you need and be prepared. Also, there are several legal defenses to asset forfeiture. An attorney will know how to present these defenses to the hearing examiner or the court in the correct way to best win your case.
If you win, the State pays.
That's right. If you win your asset forfeiture case, the state or city pays for your attorney fees. This aspect of Washington law is often overlooked by the police but its very real, and just made stronger by the Washington Supreme Court last year. Talk to an attorney about this and take advantage of the policy.