Can the Police Keep Your Property After an Arrest? (Civil Forfeiture)
Encounters with the police can happen on the street, home, public buildings or during an automobile stop. These encounters can result in law enforcement confiscating your property.
For example, if you are stopped for an alleged traffic infraction and the police find probable cause for an arrest, law enforcement may attempt to search your person, bags and automobile.
You should never consent to the search of your person or property. You should never speak or make any statements to the police.
If a search by law enforcement uncovers items considered to be contraband, (i.e. a controlled substance, illegal handguns) these type of items will be forfeited based on public safety concerns.
If, however, the police search your property, without your consent, or pursuant to a search warrant, and discover "non-contraband" items such as; cell phones, computers or large amounts of cash, these items may be seized by the police.
After the seizure of non-contraband property, the Government may file a civil lawsuit demanding the forfeiture or permanent taking of your property.
N.J.S.A 2C:64-1 governs forfeitures in the state of New Jersey. This law outlines the type of property that is subject to seizure and sets a 90 day timeline in which the State must file pleadings to begin the forfeiture action.
This law also requires the State to notify all persons who have an interest in the property. A party who receives notice, or has an interest in the property, must then file an answer and appear at the forfeiture hearing.
At the forfeiture hearing, the Court may consider such issues as the classification of the property, ownership and whether to grant or deny the State's forfeiture request.
If your money, cellular telephone, computer, automobile or other items were seized by the police you should speak with an attorney who understands the civil forfeiture process and is able to litigate these issues on your behalf.
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