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Civil Forfeiture

If your property was seized for forfeiture, then you have come to the right place. We help clients throughout the state of Colorado get their property back in both criminal and civil asset forfeiture cases.

Asset forfeiture happens when a person’s property is connected to criminal activity, usually drug trafficking, money laundering, or racketeering activities. From the government’s perspective, asset forfeiture disrupts criminals by removing the tools of the trade.

What is the difference between criminal and civil asset forfeiture? Criminal asset forfeiture cases are brought against the defendant as a consequence of the prosecution. As a general rule, a conviction is required before the forfeiture can be finalized.

In civil asset forfeiture cases, property is seized even though no one is arrested and no criminal charges are filed. The civil asset forfeiture proceeding is brought against the property rather than the person. For this reason, civil asset forfeitures are characterized as proceedings in rem.

Depending on whether a state or federal agency is involved, the forfeiture might follow either state or federal law. According to a recent report by the Institute for Justice (IJ), the State of Colorado ranks 35th for federal forfeiture with over $47 million in Department of Justice equitable sharing proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

Attorney for Forfeitures in Colorado Springs, CO

If your money or other valuable property was seized for civil or criminal forfeiture proceedings, then contact an experienced attorney at Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC.

Our attorneys represent clients in asset forfeiture cases throughout the state of Colorado. Under state law, forfeiture actions might also involve public nuisance violations involving the abatement units in local police departments.

We are familiar with how the District Attorney’s Office files forfeiture actions after the confiscation of property in Colorado. Even if you signed a “Stipulation for Entry of Judgment” (sign-over form) at the time of your arrest, you can still challenge the legality of the taking in court.

If you were served with a copy of the civil forfeiture case, summons, complaint, affidavit of the detective (forfeiture affidavit), motion for a temporary restraining order, or temporary restraining order, then act quickly. The law imposes strict deadlines that must be followed in forfeiture cases.

We are familiar with the tactics used by the Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Division (Metro VNI) task force which includes the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, the Teller County Sheriff’s Office, the Colorado Springs Police Department, the Woodland Park Police Department, and the Fountain Police Department.

The Metro VNI oversees the use of funds from civil asset forfeiture cases and funnels the money into the “special investigative fund.”

The attorneys at Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC also handle civil asset forfeiture cases in federal court after a seizure by:

  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • Homeland Security Investigations (HSI

Federal forfeiture actions include seizures of U.S. Currency at the Denver International Airport. If your money was taken at the Denver International Airport before a domestic or international flight, we can help you file a claim for court action to get it back.

Contact the white collar crime attorneys at Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC for a consultation to discuss why the property was seized, the procedures used during the forfeiture action, and the best ways to fight for the fast return of the property.

Call (719) 328-1616.

Types of Seizable Property for Forfeitures in Colorado

Property might be seized either with or without a warrant. Depending on how the property was seized, the forfeiture action might be brought under state or federal law.

The types of property seized for forfeiture in Colorado under state or federal law might include the following:

  • U.S. currency (cash or money)
  • bank assets
  • money orders
  • jewelry
  • gold, silver, and precious metals
  • vehicles (cars and trucks)
  • vessels
  • aircrafts
  • cell phones, computers, and other electronics
  • firearms
  • buildings
  • real and personal property
  • things of value used in conjunction with any public nuisance act
  • all proceeds traceable to a public nuisance act

For U.S. currency used or intended to be used to facilitate any public nuisance act, Colorado’s public nuisance acts include crimes related to:

  • controlled substances
  • human trafficking
  • illegal gambling
  • prostitution and exploitation of children
  • theft
  • certain traffic crimes, assaults, and crimes against the
  • any felony not specifically included in the public nuisance statutes

Forfeiture Actions under Colorado’s Public Nuisance Abatement Act

Most civil asset forfeitures in Colorado fall under the Colorado Public Nuisance Abatement Act, which deals with the seizure, confiscation, and forfeiture of property. In Colorado, forfeitures are civil actions that proceed at the same time as a criminal prosecution. Normally, the state of Colorado requires a conviction prior to a forfeiture judgment by the court.

For this reason, the district court will suspend civil forfeiture proceedings related to a case until a criminal conviction has been obtained. If a criminal conviction occurs, the prosecutor acts as the plaintiff while the district court maintains jurisdiction over the proceedings.

Under § 16-13-307(3), the rules of civil procedure apply to these civil actions. The crimes for which property can be confiscated include any Class 1 Public Nuisance (CRS §16-13-303) crime. The law requires proof by clear and convincing evidence the property to be forfeited was “instrumental” (i.e., a substantial connection between the property to be seized and the crime committed) in the commission or facilitation of a crime creating a public nuisance or the property constitutes traceable proceeds of the crime or related criminal activity.

Additionally, the plaintiff must also prove that the property owner knew or should have known of the illegal activity or was involved in the illegal act.

Probable Cause to Seize Property as Contraband

Law enforcement officers might seize and hold certain property, including vehicles, personal property, or fixtures, if the officer has probable cause to believe it is “contraband.” § 16-13-504(1), C.R.S.

Property is “contraband” if it “has been or is being used in any of the acts specified in section 16-13-503 or in, upon, or by means of which any act under said section has taken or is taking place.” § 16-13-504(1).

Section 16-13-503 specifies acts include “[e]ngaging in the unlawful manufacture, cultivation, growth, production, processing, or distribution for sale of, or sale of, or storing or possessing for any unlawful manufacture or distribution for sale of, or for sale of, any controlled substance.” § 16-13-503(1)(a).

Once contraband is seized, “[a]ll rights and interest in and title to contraband property shall immediately vest in the state . . ., subject only to perfection of title, rights, and interests in accordance with this part 5.” § 16-13-504(1).

Section 16-13-505 identifies a procedure through which the State of Colorado can perfect title to contraband under the Colorado Contraband Forfeiture Act (the Act), §§ 16-13-501 to – 511, C.R.S. In addition, Section § 16-13-505(4) explains that the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure apply to forfeiture proceedings in the absence of conflicting language in section 16-13-505.

A prosecuting attorney may initiate a proceeding to perfect title to contraband under the Act by filing a petition and a supporting affidavit containing the information specified in section 16-13-505(2)(a).

The District Attorney’s Petition in Forfeiture to Perfect Title

When the seizure involves local law enforcement officers at the state or local law, the District Attorney might file a petition in forfeiture to perfect title to the property. In the petition, the District Attorney will request that the district court do the following:

  1. Issue a citation to interested persons to show cause why the property should not be forfeited as contraband pursuant to section 16-13-503, C.R.S. 2019; and
  2. Enter a final order perfecting the State’s right and interest in, and title to, the property, pursuant to sections 16-13-503 and 16-13-506, C.R.S.

When the District Attorney files a petition in forfeiture to perfect title, the petition is supported with an affidavit from the critical witnesses.

The District Court will determine whether probable cause exists to believe the property is contraband or otherwise subject to seizure. After a finding of probable cause, the court might issue a “Citation to Show Cause (Advisement)” stating that title would be forfeited unless the named claimant responds or appears before the court for a show cause hearing on the petition.

Citation to Show Cause Why the Property Should Not Be Forfeited

The court reviews the petition and affidavit to determine whether probable cause exists to show that the subject property is contraband, as defined in the Act.

If so, the court shall “issue a citation directed to interested parties to show cause why the property should not be forfeited. The citation shall fix the date and time for a first appearance on the petition.” § 16-13-505(2)(b).

The intent of the Colorado General Assembly was to provide claimants with sufficient time to respond to petitions before a scheduled hearing.

For example, § 16-13-505(2)(b) requires that a hearing be set no earlier than thirty-five days from the date of issuance of the citation, but not prescribing a minimum number of days between service on the respondent and the hearing.

Statutory Requirements for Responses in Civil Forfeiture Proceedings in Colorado

A claimant seeking to prevent the State of Colorado from obtaining title to seized property pursuant to a forfeiture petition must file a response to the prosecuting attorney’s petition that satisfies the four requirements enumerated in section 16-13-505(2)(d). See § 16-13-505(2)(d)(I)-(IV).

A person wishing to contest a forfeiture petition shall, before the “first appearance on the petition,” file a response that includes:

  1. A statement admitting or denying the averments of the petition;
  2. A statement setting forth with particularity why the seized property should not be forfeited. The statement shall include specific factual and legal grounds supporting it and any affirmative defense to forfeiture as provided in this part 5.
  3. A list of witnesses whom the respondent intends to call at the hearing on the merits, including the addresses and telephone numbers thereof; and
  4. A verified statement, supported by documentation, that the claimant is the true owner of the property or an interest therein.

§ 16-13-505(2)(d).

In People v. Merrill, 816 P.2d 958, 959 (Colo. App. 1991), the court held that the procedures in the Act are the exclusive means for recovery of an article seized as “contraband property” under section 16-13-504(1).

If a claimant to the subject property who has been properly served fails “to appear personally or by counsel on the first appearance date or fails to file a response as required by this section,” the court shall “forthwith find said person in default and enter an order forfeiting said person’s interest in the property and distributing the proceeds of forfeiture as provided in this part 5.” § 16-13-505(8).

This means that without the property representation, the district court typically enters a default order of forfeiture pursuant to 16-13-505(8), C.R.S. After the default order, the court might authorize a public sale of the property pursuant to section 16-13-311, C.R.S. with the sale proceeds to be deposited into the court registry for distribution in accordance with section 16-13-311.

Once a default order of forfeiture is entered, it may be set aside only upon an express finding by the court that a claimant was improperly served through no fault of such claimant and had no notice of the first appearance on the citation or was prevented from appearing and responding due to an emergency situation caused by events beyond such claimant’s control when such claimant had made diligent, good faith, and reasonable efforts to prepare a response and appear. Id.

Additional Resources

Asset Forfeiture Abuse | ACLU – Visit the official website for the American Civil Liberties Union to learn more about how law enforcement of all degrees has abused civil asset forfeiture laws in the past. Access the site to read news, watch videos, review press releases, and find other information regarding civil forfeiture abuse in the United States.

Civil Asset Forfeiture in Colorado – Visit the website of the Colorado General Assembly to find issue briefs on civil asset forfeiture published on August 9, 2017. The issue brief by the Colorado Legislative Council Staff summarizes Colorado and federal civil asset forfeiture laws.

Seizures of Property for Forfeiture in Colorado Springs, CO

The police in Colorado Springs, CO, are often accused of bias-based profiling when conducting the so-called consensual encounters in asset seizures and forfeiture cases.

According to General Order 1303 of the Colorado Springs Police Department,  Section 13 addresses “Bias Based Profiling Prohibited — Community Involvement,” the agency states that bias-based profiling in law enforcement is totally unacceptable.

The order provides guidelines for officers of the Colorado Springs Police Department to prevent occurrences of bias-based profiling.

Statistics on Civil Asset Forfeiture in Colorado Spring

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice shows that in 2015, more than 10 million dollars in net forfeiture proceeds were gathered by federal authorities in Colorado. Approximately one-half of those funds, $5.06 million were distributed to local law enforcement agencies in Colorado.

Just over 1 million went to Denver Police Department, $778,643 went to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, $537,101 went to the West Metropolitan Drug Task Force, and $587,637 when to the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Finding an Attorney for Asset Forfeiture Cases in Colorado

If you received a citation to show cause, a petition in forfeiture to perfect title in the property, and the supporting affidavit, then contact an experienced civil asset forfeiture attorney.

We can help you file responsive pleadings that will be accepted by the court. In addition to meeting the strict requirements listed in section 16-13-505(2)(d), the motion must explain with particularity why the seized property should not be forfeited.” § 16-13-505(2)(d)(I), (II).

The motion must also include a witness list and “verified statement, supported by documentation, that the claimant is the true owner of the property or an interest therein.” § 16-13-505(2)(d)(III), (IV).

In addition to meeting the pleading requirements, the motion must also be timely filed.

If your property was seized for forfeiture under state or federal law, contact an experienced asset forfeiture attorney at Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC.

Call (719) 328-1616 today.

This article was last updated on Monday, October 26, 2020.

Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC