Speak Out: Civil Forfeiture

A Dover man acquitted of drug charges and convicted of weapons offenses was denied in an attempt to regain $13,584 seized during a search warrant execution at his home in 2015, according to a Superior Court ruling issued last week.

• Many years ago in Delaware, the forfeiture of seized money was handled as part of the criminal disposition. That was changed by statute many years ago, and now civil forfeiture of alleged proceeds of criminal activity is handled through a civil action filed by the claimant in Superior Court. If the money is legitimate, the petitioner seeking the return of the money needs only to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the money came from a legitimate means. If in fact it is not money from a criminal activity, that is very easy to do and the petitioner can obtain back the money.

Likewise, any innocent third-party can petition for return of the money, vehicle or other property seized. They need only show that they are the lawful owner of the property and they had no idea that it was used in the commission of a crime or it is the proceeds of a crime. Again, the burden of proof is merely by a preponderance of the evidence. The Delaware forfeiture statute was patterned identically to the federal forfeiture statute when it was changed many years ago. Money seized goes to SLEAF, which is the special law enforcement administrative fund, which is used for legitimate law enforcement purposes. — Chuck Connors

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