Even if you are only suspected of a crime, law enforcement can seize your property. This practice, known as civil asset forfeiture, is now being challenged by a bipartisan group of Maryland legislators. A previous attempt to restrict its use was vetoed by Governor Larry Hogan in 2015. The original intent of the law was to prevent large-scale criminal operators, such as drug dealers, from accessing their ill-gotten gains. However, critics charged that the process has been overused and abused. The potential for abuse is particularly high in a state like Maryland where many nonresidents travel on its roads.

In the process, property ostensibly associated with criminal behavior is confiscated and a proceeding is brought against the property rather than its owners. Recovering the property can involve more legal expense and effort than the property is worth, particularly for those who live out of state.

One temptation for authorities to seize assets in this way is the fact that the departments are usually able to keep the forfeited money and property. Even where tough state laws are enacted, forfeiture abuse can occur. Local police departments sometimes transfer the property to federal authorities who are not bound by the state rule as part of an “equitable sharing” agreement where each agency profits.

Under the proposed law, property could only be seized if its owners are convicted in court and a connection is proven between the items and the underlying criminal conduct.  It would also prohibit equitable sharing with federal agencies unless certain conditions are met.  

The criminal defense attorneys at Mudd, Mudd & Fitzgerald, P.A. can assist with your defense against any charge filed against you and help preserve your legal and property rights. Our offices are in La Plata.