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The police seized your property. What can you do?

Civil asset forfeiture has been making headlines in Rhode Island and across the country. While seizing assets during the investigation of a crime is sometimes useful in preventing or solving crimes, it has evolved into a questionable practice.

You do not have to be convicted of a crime to lose assets to civil forfeiture. In Rhode Island, police only have to show probable cause that you were involved in a crime to seize assets from you. And that is not the worst part of civil forfeiture - getting your property back is often a lengthy, expensive ordeal. Under Rhode Island law, you must prove that your assets were not part of a crime in order to recover them.

What can the police take?

Law enforcement may seize vehicles, money, personal property and homes in civil asset forfeiture actions. They may take assets that have nothing to do with the crime they are investigating. In some cases, police seize large amounts of cash that they only assume is for purchasing illegal drugs.

A study of asset forfeiture in Rhode Island found that over ten years, law enforcement seized assets worth nearly $15.7 million. The state's law allows police and other law enforcement agencies to seize assets suspected of being bought with drug money. They may also take assets they believe may be a part of the "transportation of or in exchange for" illegal drugs.

Many people need a lawyer to help them recover their seized property by investigating the matter on their behalf. In some cases, law enforcement uses illegal search and seizure tactics. Uncovering these types of constitutional rights violations is one way a lawyer can help people get their property returned to them.

Source:, "Target 12: RI police seizures top $15M in last decade," Dan McGowan and Tim White, May 16, 2014.

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