The civil asset forfeiture procedure has been significantly changed over the past few years in Chicago. The most common tool used is that of confiscation orders in cases where a court process has started or is contemplated. One of the reasons for these changes is the increase in the sophistication and breadth of financial crimes. It was felt that the people that committed these crimes got to retain a large proportion of their criminally-acquired assets, hence making a mockery of justice. The end result was the overturning of the “crime doesn’t pay” mantra. Therefore, these procedures were tightened up in order to allow the victims and the prosecution authorities to target those illegally acquired assets.
The standard procedure is to dispose of or auction off the ill-gotten gains from criminality. The resultant funds are returned to the treasury but the judge may order that the victims be compensated. In addition, there is always the option for victims to sue the perpetrator for damages. One of the most controversial uses of this procedure has been to seize what is considered to be drug-related paraphernalia. The intentions behind the operation are to root out criminality from its source and main motivation. However, the end result is that poorer people are targeted and they end up losing everything on the basis of a suspicion. The forensic teams may find it difficult to distinguish legitimate from tainted assets.
The Rationale Behind the Confiscations and Seizures
There are obvious spoils from criminality and the courts are duty-bound to ensure that the criminals do not actually realize those spoils. This may act as a deterrent in the future because it means that engaging in crime is a pointless and fruitless exercise. It must be pointed out that many of the seizures are now being done for crimes that would otherwise be considered to be minor. A case in point is where an elderly citizen has her car towed away because an errant grandson drove it without having a valid license. The end result is that the rightful owner of the car is being punished instead of the person that actually perpetrated the crime.
The authorities are sometimes at pains to explain the confiscation and forfeiture decisions, given the fact that the criminals sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to hide the source and disposal process for the illegally acquired assets. Some reforms have been put in place so that the enforcement agencies exercise the necessary level of caution before seizing property just in case they have the wrong person. Of particular interest are those instances where the person is merely suspected of using specific assets in order to commit some unproven crime. This is where most of the mistakes are likely to be committed. The investigations can be quite time-consuming for the sophisticated career criminals and this will have to be taken into consideration when making a decision.
The court is granted the power to freeze the assets of those that are uncooperative with the process. That lack of cooperation may go beyond merely not providing information to actively hampering the investigation which may amount to perversion of the course of justice. Sometimes the investigation will yield new information that can support alternative and even more serious charges against the defendant. The bottom line is that the courts are determined to ensure that those who engage in sophisticated financial crime do not get away with the ill-gotten proceeds that they may have accumulated. This carries the combination of the punitive and exemplary aspects of the justice system. The reforms are meant to ensure that the interests of justice are not harmed in the process. For expert help with your criminal case, contact David Freidberg Attorney at Law at 312-560-7100.
(image courtesy of Raban Haaijk)