Written by attorney Mitchell Scott Sexner

Seizures and Forfeitures of Property in Criminal or Traffic Cases in Illinois

Illinois law permits vehicles, vessels, or aircraft used in the commission or attempted commission of certain types of crimes to be seized and delivered to a police or state agency. The list of crimes that allow for seizures is extensive and the Illinois legislature consistently adds to the list of qualifying crimes. However, the law does require that administrative agencies and law enforcement agencies follow very specific procedures. The seizure may be invalid if the agencies do not follow these proper procedures. Furthermore, Illinois law recognizes a number of exceptions and exemptions to the seizure law. If an agency has seized your vehicle, you should immediately contact an experienced criminal law attorney. Your rights and ability to regain your vehicle may depend on whether you contest the seizure in a timely manner.

Forfeiture proceedings can be brought against a vehicle for actual commission of the crime or the attempted commission of the crime. A forfeiture proceeding is completely separate from the criminal case. It is not affected by the outcome of the criminal case (such as a failure to file charges, a not guilty verdict, or a plea agreement). The forfeiture case is a civil proceeding against the vehicle itself, not the defendant in the criminal case. The property must be seized in the county of forfeiture of must have been used to commit the offense or attempted offense in that county.

It is important to note that there are exceptions that may be claimed by owners of property that is the subject of the seizure, such as the hardship exception and the innocent owner exception. The hardship exception is one that may be claimed if the owner argues that the vehicle is the only one owned by the family or that they rely on the vehicle for transportation to and from employment. The innocent owner exception is one that may be claimed if the owner of the vehicle is not the arrested party, and that they can prove at a hearing that they did not and should not have known about the arrested party's actions.

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The best outcome for a person facing such a seizure is to convince the prosecution to dismiss the matter. However, if the prosecution is unwilling to dismiss the seizure or forfeiture, experienced attorneys can review your case to determine whether any defense may apply. If an agreement cannot be reached with the prosecutor or judge, your criminal defense attorney will be properly prepared to take your case to a hearing.

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