When it comes to the notion of civil forfeiture, meaning scenarios in which the federal and state governments confiscates property, most people envision law enforcement officials seizing the million dollar homes or fleets of luxury vehicles owned by those convicted of serious white collar crimes or drug-related offenses.
While this is by no means an inaccurate depiction, it's important to understand that the civil forfeiture rules are written in such a way that government agencies can lawfully seize property or cash it merely suspects has been used in some sort of criminal activity. In other words, no conviction or no criminal charges are even required.
As unbelievable as this may seem, consider also that it's not just agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that areconfiscating assets, but also local police departments and the Internal Revenue Service. Statistics put the amount seized by the IRS via civil forfeiture between 2005 and 2012 at a staggering $242 million.
While the IRS has indicated that it has certain mechanisms in place to ensure due process protection for the innocent taxpayers, it's nevertheless important to reiterate that this can all take place absent a criminal conviction or the filing of any criminal charges.
It's worth noting, however, that at least two bills have been introduced by federal lawmakers to curb the practice of civil forfeiture:
- The Taxpayer Protections Against Abusive Seizures Act, proposed by Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), calls for greater protections from civil forfeiture.
- The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR) Act, proposed by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), would mandate a court hearing within 14 days of any seizure and require the return of the property absent a finding of probable cause.
The Florida legislature should consider passing laws to protect Floridians from abusive and wrongful civil forfeitures. While the fate of these bills remain uncertain, it's nevertheless encouraging to see that the issue of potential abuse of the civil forfeiture laws hasn't gone unnoticed in the halls of Congress.
At the Law Offices of Horwitz & Citro, P.A., we understand the fear and frustration that can come from being charged with any sort of tax crime. That's why we do everything in our power to prepare a compelling case designed to prove your innocence and protect your future.