PROTECTING YOUR RIGHTS & YOUR FREEDOM

Civil forfeiture is a process that allows law enforcement officers or agencies to confiscate private property allegedly related to a crime, even if the property owner is not actually charged with a criminal case. The government is not required to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt as it must in other criminal cases. The state instead is only required to prove probable cause by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a far lower standard which only requires the government to prove that its case is more likely to be true than not true.
In 2016, the Institute for Justice released its second version of "Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture," in which it provided a map of the United States that included a scorecard for every state. Louisiana was one of 35 states with a grade of D+ or worse. According to the Institute, Louisiana generated $99,315,778 in total forfeiture proceeds between 2000 and 2014.

Contact The Norris Law Group at (318) 771-7000 to schedule a confidential consultation regarding asset forfeiture defense.

LOUISIANA ASSET FORFEITURE LAWS

In a civil asset forfeiture, your property is the defendant. An action in rem (also known as an in rem proceeding) is a proceeding against the actual thing as opposed to personal actions, which are in personam.

An action in rem can be brought by the district attorney in addition to, or in lieu of, civil in personam forfeiture procedures. The owner of or an interest holder in the property are the only parties allowed to file answers asserting claims against the property in an action in rem. Owners or interest holders become claimants.

An answer must be signed by the owner or interest holder under penalty of perjury and must contain all of the following:

  • The caption of the proceedings as set forth on the Notice of Pending Forfeiture or petition and the name of the claimant.
  • The claimant's mailing address.
  • The nature and extent of the claimant's interest in the property.
  • The date, identity of the person transferring the property, and the circumstances of how the claimant acquired the property.
  • A specific provision relied on in asserting that it is not subject to forfeiture.
  • All essential facts supporting each assertion.
  • The precise relief sought.

An answer must be filed within 15 days of service of a civil in rem petition. The state and any claimant who has answered a petition can, at the time of filing pleadings or at any other time not less than 30 days prior to a hearing, serve discovery requests on another party for which answers or response will be due within 15 days of service. The court alone determines any issues and a hearing on a claim must be held within 60 days of service of the petition, unless continued for good cause.

In a forfeiture case where no claim is filed, the burden of proof is probable cause. The burden of proof required to forfeit the defendant's property is preponderance of the evidence when a claim is timely filed. The court will order the property returned to the claimant when the district attorney fails to show the existence of probable cause for forfeiture or a claimant establishes that he has an interest that exempts him from forfeiture under the appropriate statute.

Property is exempt from forfeiture when an owner or holder establishes all of the following:
  • They are not legally accountable for the alleged conduct giving rise to the forfeiture, did not consent to it, did not know, and could not reasonably have known of the alleged conduct or that it was likely to occur.
  • They had not acquired and did not stand to financially gain from the alleged conduct giving rise to the forfeiture other than as an interest holder in a bona fide commercial transaction.
  • With respect to conveyances for transportation only, they did not hold the property jointly, in common, or in community with a person whose alleged conduct gave rise to its forfeiture.
  • That they do not hold the property for the benefit of or as an agent for any person whose alleged conduct gave rise to its forfeiture. If the owner or interest holder acquired his interest through any such person, the owner or interest holder acquired it as a bona fide purchaser for value not knowingly taking part in an illegal transaction.
  • That no person whose alleged conduct gave rise to its forfeiture had the authority to convey the interest to a bona fide purchaser for value at the time of the conduct.

Louisiana law also requires a person to establish that the owner or interest holder acquired the interest after the completion of the alleged conduct giving rise to its forfeiture and that the owner or interest holder acquired the interest:
  • as a bona fide purchaser for value who was not knowingly taking part in an illegal transaction,
  • before the filing of a forfeiture lien on it; before the effective date of a Notice of Pending Forfeiture relating to it; and without notice of its seizure for forfeiture under the Chapter; and
  • at the time the interest was acquired, there was no reasonable cause to believe that the property was subject to forfeiture or likely to become subject to forfeiture.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PROPERTY IS FORFEITED?

In Louisiana, the district attorney must authorize a public sale or a public auction sale conducted by a licensed auctioneer. This sale does not require an appraisal of forfeited property. The property cannot be sold if it is required by law to be destroyed or harmful to the public. If the property seized is a motor vehicle, the seizing agency can retain use of the motor vehicle for use in the scope of undercover surveillance and investigation of violations of the Louisiana Controlled Dangerous Substances Law.

The proceeds of any sale and any monies forfeited or obtained, by judgment or settlement, must be deposited in the Special Asset Forfeiture Fund. The fund is subject to public audit, and money in the fund must be distributed for satisfaction of any bona fide security interest or lien, and for payment of all expenses of the forfeiture and sale proceedings. The remaining funds are allocated as follows: 60% to the law enforcement agency or agencies making the seizure, 20% to the criminal court fund, and 20% to any district attorney's office that employs the attorneys who handle the forfeiture action for the state.

Law enforcement agencies end up keeping a significant portion of whatever currency or property they seize through civil asset forfeiture.

DEFENDING AGAINST ASSET FORFEITURE

The Norris Law Group understands the complexity of civil asset forfeiture cases and can work to help you achieve the most favorable possible outcome in your case. You will need a knowledgeable lawyer to help protect and preserve your right to retain your property. Cases are frequently complicated by the nature of the alleged crime giving rise to the forfeiture. Family violence cases, for example, can result in the victim of domestic violence having their property seized due to it being connected to their crime scene.

If your property was recently seized under state civil asset forfeiture laws in Shreveport, Bossier City, or a community nearby, you will need to work with an attorney who can prove that the forfeiture was not justified. The Norris Law Group will work tirelessly to help you recover the property that was wrongly taken from you. We can review your case during a confidential consultation, as soon as you call (318) 771-7000 or contact us online.