As law enforcement budgets across Rhode Island grow ever tighter, agencies are increasingly looking to alternative methods for generating revenue, including the use of state forfeiture laws. Under such provisions, police and other government entities are afforded the ability to seize the money, property and other valuable assets of individuals accused of drug crimes, even before a conviction has been obtained.
Forfeiture laws in Rhode Island
Unfortunately for those who have merely been accused of certain criminal offenses in Rhode Island, the bar for law enforcement agencies to seize property believed to have some connection with the alleged wrongdoing is quite low. According to state law, only a showing of probable cause that the property at issue is rightly subject to criminal forfeiture — such as cash seized in connection with a suspected drug transaction — needs to be made.
It should be noted that it is not just state and local police agencies capable of initiating these types of forfeiture proceedings. Some of the other authorities routinely involved in such actions include:
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
- Internal Revenue Service
Because law enforcement agencies are permitted to keep a substantial portion of the proceeds from seized property, there is a significant incentive for them to utilize the aforementioned laws to their advantage and to the detriment of the accused.
Reclaiming seized property
Individuals who have been subjected to property forfeiture often face an uphill battle when it comes to reclaiming property taken in the wake of a drug charge or by virtue of their suspected involvement in a crime. Indeed, they will need to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the property in question does not fall under the state’s forfeiture rules, even though the state need only meet the much lower standard of probable cause.
Even so, there are times when it is possible to defeat the state’s claim of rightful forfeiture and reassert ownership over property taken in this manner, but the key is to act swiftly in battling back against a system that is clearly stacked in favor of law enforcement.