Virginia forfeiture laws have come under serious scrutiny over the past few years, as civil liberties groups have questioned the legality of taking property without first proving a crime occurred, yet they are still in full force—and employed often to seize property from suspected narcotics traffickers and other drug dealers. In fact, $62 million in assets has been seized by Virginia law enforcement from suspected narcotics traffickers and other drug dealers in just the past seven years alone. As it currently stands, the owners of this property have no claim to recover these assets unless the source of the confiscated property can be proven legitimate.
Although some of these seizures have come in the wake of busts with multiple charges, some have also been followed by no charges, making it possible for innocent people to lose large sums of money regardless of criminal intent. In drug cases, these laws can have particularly harsh consequences. Some defendants arrested for simple possession charges end up losing cash or even large property like cars due to a small amount of drugs intended for personal use. Though no one should be able to keep thousands of dollars gained through massive drug trafficking schemes, Virginia forfeiture law never was intended to affect small-time offenders in this manner.
Virginia Forfeiture Law Reform Considered
The original intent of these laws was to ensure crime wouldn’t pay and that drug dealers couldn’t keep ill-gotten gains. Now, however, just about anyone involved in a drug case can face losses. Due to the vague nature of current legislation and the difficulties that the accused face in trying to get back property, the Virginia Assembly is considering forfeiture law reform.
Two bills have been through the Assembly that would require a conviction before assets could be turned over to the police to liquidate, but ultimately the measure was deferred until the Virginia Crime Commission could review it further. It remains to be seen if and when more progress will be made. Still, now that the public is more aware of the problem, it is likely that we will see renewed efforts for Virginia forfeiture law reform in the future.
In the meantime, people arrested for drug crimes should be aware that they may face an uphill battle recovering any assets forfeited to law enforcement during an investigation. With the help of an experienced Virginia drug defense lawyer, however, you may be able to get your legitimate property back. It should not be so easy for the government to take the property of innocent citizens, but you at least have a chance at getting justice. If you find yourself facing drug charges, call the Virginia drug defense lawyers at Copenhaver, Ellett, and Derrico today at (540) 343-9349 for a free consultation on your case. We will always fight for your rights.