How can the district attorney attempt forfeit money that they cannot prove was the proceeds of illegal activity?

Attempt Forfeit Money

In some drug delivery cases, the district attorney or Attorney General seeks to forfeit property that is believed to have been used in relation to drug activity. Forfeiture is a civil proceeding in which the state attempts to take title or ownership of property based upon the property’s relation to criminal activity. For example, if a car were used to transport drugs from one location to another, or if marijuana was grown in a house, the district attorney may seek to forfeit the car and the house as those items were used to facilitate a crime.

Another example of forfeiture often arises when the police conduct a search, find significant sums of cash, confiscate the cash, and then seek to forfeit the cash under an argument that it is the proceeds of illegal activity. Under the Controlled Substance Forfeiture Act, set forth in section 6801(a)(6)(i) of Title 42, money that is found in “proximity to controlled substances” is “rebuttably presumed to be proceeds derived from the selling of a controlled substance.” This means that if cash is found near drugs, then there is a presumption that the state can forfeit the money, and the burden is on the owner to present evidence that the cash was lawfully obtained. While the legal system generally requires the state to prove its case and allows for a presumption of innocence, in the forfeiture setting, the state actually gets a presumption of forfeiture when money is found in close proximity to drugs.

Forfeiture cases can be won depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case, but they are also very difficult. In cases that involve relatively small values of property or small amounts of cash, it is often more expensive and time consuming to retain a criminal defense attorney to fight the forfeiture proceedings. In other situations, either the value of the property or the overwhelming evidence in favor of the defense justifies the fight. Centre County criminal defense attorney Jason S. Dunkle has provided representation to individuals in the forfeiture setting. Attorney Dunkle was able to work with the clients to prepare a defense to the forfeiture petitions, and, based upon the strength of the defense, agreements were reached with the district attorney to have the property returned to the clients.