Understanding Your Rights after the State of New Jersey Seizes or Forfeits Your Property

Under the New Jersey forfeiture statute, 2C:64-1, law enforcement can legally seize property which they suspect has been used, or is intended to be used in the commission of a crime. The following are property subject to forfeiture: controlled dangerous substances, firearms which are unlawfully possessed, carried, acquired or used, illegally possessed gambling devices, untaxed cigarettes or tobacco products, untaxed special fuel, unlawful sound recordings and audiovisual works, and items bearing a counterfeit mark. In addition, property or money obtained as a result of the sale of contraband is subject to forfeiture.  The owner of the forfeited property is responsible for recovering the items the police have seized. The State is responsible for proving that the property has been or is intended to become an integral part of an illegal activity, property that constitutes the proceeds of illegal activities, or property that has been or is intended to be utilized in furtherance of an unlawful activity. In New Jersey, individuals whose property is being forfeited do not need to be formally charged with a crime, or convicted.

The standard that the State must show to forfeit a property in New Jersey is a mere preponderance of the evidence standard, not beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard for Criminal matters. In order for the state to proceed with a forfeiture matter, the state must file a civil lawsuit against the property within ninety (90) days of the initial seizure. The owner then has thirty-five (35) days to answer the complaint, or else the property will be forfeited.

Our law office often represents clients in cases which involved a forfeiture matter. This being either forfeited property or money. Due to some corrupt practices by law enforcement agencies, forfeitures have become a national problem. Some civil rights groups say there is an incentive for police officers to “forfeit for profit,” because the departments’ officers are allowed to keep a portion, or occasionally all of the property from a forfeiture matter. The burden for individuals who have had property seized is that the forfeiture process often takes a lot of time, effort, and money to recover the forfeited property. It is often easier to simply give up the articles seized.

We submit forfeiture statutes are supposed to be strictly interpreted by the Court in order to exclude innocent owners, who did not consent or know about the illegal use of their property. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In order to defend a person whose property has been seized in forfeiture, it must be proven that the defendant’s property has no direct connection to the illegal activities. In cases of forfeited money, it must be proved that the money seized has been generated through legitimate activities. In addition, if the search is proven to be illegal, the property cannot be forfeited, unless the item is contraband.

Our law offices hope under the administration of Governor Phil Murphy, that the forfeiture statute will be revised to protect citizens whose property has been seized unlawfully. In addition, the law must be revisited to reduce overreaching and abused discretion by law enforcement agencies. If you are involved in a criminal matter and also require assistance in recovering forfeited property, contact our law offices at 732-249-9933.