WASHINGTON CIVIL FORFEITURE LAWS
The State of Washington may attempt to seize property connected to illegal activity in a civil proceeding. If you’re the owner of such property, it’s imperative that you understand how this seizure may occur. Civil forfeiture actions proceed, not against the owner of the property, but against the property itself (e.g., a car used in the commission of a crime). For the State to legally seize the property, it must prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the property was associated with criminal activity. “Preponderance of the evidence” is a specific legal test and it’s generally met if the State can show that the property was more likely than not associated with a crime.
If the State is successful in its proof, then attention is placed on the owner of the property. The owner may attempt to recover his property by showing that he had nothing to do with the criminal activity involved in the case. Please note that governmental agencies in Washington can initiate civil forfeiture proceedings even if no criminal charges have been filed.
Forfeiture laws have established three categories of property that are subject to forfeiture. These include:
- Contraband – property for which it’s a crime to own (e.g., illegal drugs)
- Proceeds from illegal activity – essentially property that results from, or can be traced back to illegal activity
- Tools used in commission of a crime – property used to commit a crime