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Defending against civil forfeiture as well as criminal charges

Residents in Iowa may think that the only goal of the Iowa State Troopers is to keep the roads safe and enforce the laws, but a recent story has some criminal justice experts questioning the methods they routinely use to obtain tremendous sums of money and property through civil forfeiture laws, even when no crime has been committed.

In 2012, a man driving along Interstate 80 was pulled over for allegedly having a taillight out. When the officer stopped the man, he searched the vehicle and found a small amount of marijuana, as well as over $30,000 in currency.

The man was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, but beat the charges one year later when the district court found him not guilty. However, the state also filed a civil forfeiture case against him, in which they sought to keep all of the money they confiscated during the traffic stop.

Shockingly the state court of appeals ruled that even though the man was not found guilty of any crime, the state was allowed to keep the money under the state's lax civil forfeiture laws. Unlike a criminal charge, which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, Iowa only requires the state to show that the forfeited item was somehow linked to a crime by a preponderance of the evidence.

The preponderance of the evidence standard is far easier to reach than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. In this case, the court found the state could legally keep over $30,000 of the acquitted defendant's personal property.

This does not appear to be an isolated incident, as the Iowa State Troopers have confiscated over $7 million in personal property over the course of only a few years. To make matters worse, the courts do not appear to be concerned with the civil liberties of the innocent people who are victimized by this exploitative trend.

People accused of crimes need to be aware of Iowa's civil forfeiture laws, which is why now more than ever they should seek advice about their legal rights. This will ensure they protect their rights and serve their interests when initiating a criminal defense and any other legalities arising out of the situation.

Source: Forbes "Man Acquitted Of Crime, Cops Still Take His Cash," Nick Sibilla, March 4, 2015

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