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Can the government seize property in Maryland?

Maryland state or local governments can seize property related to criminal activity, even if there is no criminal conviction, through civil forfeiture. In cases related to drug crimes, the government may seize real estate, cars, equipment, money, accessories and all types of other property.

In civil forfeiture, the government first seizes the property and then files a case where it presents reasons why it should keep the property. This is a non-criminal action and is not considered a form of punishment. The accused does not have to own the property that is seized.

The government can seize property that is specified in a warrant. It can also seize property without a warrant if it was part of a lawful search or inspection, there is probable cause that it is harmful or dangerous or if there is probable cause that it was intended to be used illegally. The authorities must notify the property owner about the seizure and how it can be contested.

The government must then file a complaint with the circuit court seeking forfeiture within 90 days following the seizure or one year after the disposition of the criminal case. A complaint must be filed within 45 days following the seizure of a vehicle.

A hearing will be held where the government must prove that the property was more likely than not used in a crime. In crimes unrelated to drug activity, the government may seize property even if it never charges the owner with a crime or if charges are dismissed. In drug cases, the owner must be charged with a drug offense and the property must be returned if charges are not filed.

Generally, a court will allow the property to remain forfeited where it finds that the property was directly or indirectly related to a crime, as in the case of a home or car purchased with drug sale proceeds. In drug crimes, the government may seize any property used to make and deliver the drugs such as cars, boats, planes, materials and other equipment, as well as a house or land and money connected to illegal drug distribution.

Like other matters related to criminal justice, civil forfeiture has long-term consequences. Legal advice can be sought immediately to help assure that property is not seized unlawfully and that rights are protected.

Source: The People's Law Library of Maryland, "Can the state take my stuff? Seizure and civil forfeiture of property," accessed on May 16, 2017

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