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Asset forfeiture in California criminal proceedings

An accusation of criminal conduct comes with a host of questions. What will happen to me? Is jail or prison time a possibility? How will this case affect my career? Each of these questions can be overwhelming by themselves, but there’s another possible penalty which can also be of concern: asset forfeiture.

What is asset forfeiture?

Asset forfeiture is the process by which a government entity seizes the property of an individual and takes ownership of that property. Both the federal government and California engage in asset forfeiture, taking ownership of property they believe has been involved in criminal activity.

California permits asset forfeiture in myriad crimes, most notably those involving illegal drugs and white-collar crimes. In California Penal Code Section 186.2, a wide variety of so-called criminal profiteering crimes are subject to asset forfeiture, from arson and felony assault to embezzlement and forgery.

How does it work?

California asset forfeiture laws and procedures are extremely complex. There are many different statutes which govern how they are used and under what circumstances. An asset forfeiture for a drug-related crime will not necessarily follow the same process as one for racketeering.

But generally, when law enforcement is seeking asset forfeiture, it will occur alongside the criminal case. Assuming the charged individual is convicted, there will then be a separate hearing on the forfeiture. Prosecutors must then prove that the property in question was either used in the crime’s commission or obtained by way of the crime. If successful, ownership of the property changes from the accused to the government.

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