Asset forfeiture occurs when the police seize assets – money, vehicles, jewelry and other valuable things – because they believe they are connected to a crime. Forfeiture is controversial issue in Ohio and throughout the country. It presents a big opportunity for abuse and injustice so it is crucial to take any seizure or forfeiture actions with a great deal of care.
Many states allow law enforcement to retain much – if not all – of the valuable assets they seize. This provides incentive for police to seize valuable property when someone is arrested, as it will increase the budget of their department and maybe result in a raise. Ohio participates in equitable sharing of forfeited assets. According to the Institute of Justice, Ohio law enforcement officials received more than $80 million from equitable sharing from 2000 to 2008.
The February drug arrest of Green Bay Packers nose tackle Letroy Guion made headlines from coast to coast. While it happened in Florida – not Ohio – Guion’s situation provides an excellent example of forfeiture.
Guion was pulled over for erratic driving and police found 357 grams of marijuana in his truck, along with approximately $190,000 in cash and a licensed, unloaded gun. They seized his truck, money, gun – and pot, of course.
Guion reached a plea deal in March, ending his criminal prosecution in exchange for paying a $5,000 fine, but he still hasn’t had his assets returned. Guion says he had the large sum of money because he cashed some Packers paychecks and was going to give the cash to his mother in Florida. Guion’s claim seems to have merit; the sum of cash is consistent with the total of two recent paychecks.
Guion’s civil forfeiture case is still pending. He challenged a probably cause hearing in late March but lost. Now, Florida will have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the cash and truck were related to criminal activity under Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act. Even if Guion’s story is true, the government may still take his truck and money if they successfully meet the standard of proof. It is all about the evidence.
Like Florida, Ohio uses the clear and convincing standard for civil forfeiture. If Guion had been arrested in Ohio, it is likely that his forfeiture case would still be pending.
With so much on the line, it is easy to see how important a skilled criminal defense attorney can be to a case. Even in the aforementioned situation where Guion has a credible story for how he got all that cash, the government is still trying to take it.