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Supreme Court puts limits on federal forfeiture

Being convicted of committing federal drug crimes in relation to a drug scheme can open the door to a person facing all sorts of serious consequences. This includes possible asset forfeiture. Under federal forfeiture law, authorities can seize certain assets in connection to profits earned through illegal drug activity.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, however, puts some limits on what asset seizures federal authorities can do in relation to individual members of a drug scheme.

The case involved a man accused of having been involved in a drug scheme with his brother to sell certain materials to makers of methamphetamine. The man was ultimately convicted.

Purportedly, the scheme altogether netted $270,000 in profits. Authorities attempted to collect $70,000 from the man through forfeiture following the man’s brother, who pled guilty in the case, forfeiting $200,000. The man, however, challenged this action, arguing that he didn’t get any of the profits of the scheme and thus that he shouldn’t be liable for such profits in forfeiture.

So, a central issue in the case was: Under federal forfeiture laws, when a drug scheme involves multiple people, is the asset forfeiture liability of each individual in the scheme limited to just what part of the scheme’s profits they personally received, or could they potentially be liable for any of the profits gained from the scheme as a whole?

In its ruling in the case, the U.S Supreme Court ruled that federal forfeiture laws do not allow prosecutors to go after assets from a person beyond what profits that individual actually received from a drug scheme.

So, this decision puts some reins on how much in assets federal prosecutors can pursue from individual members of drug scheme through the forfeiture process.

Forfeitures can have big financial impacts on individuals. So, how much in forfeiture they could possibly face can be a very impactful matter for people facing federal drug charges. Given this, understanding what possible forfeitures they could face are among the many things that can be key in a person accused of federal drug offenses having a full picture of the potential consequences their case could end up having. What consequences could come out of the case are among the things skilled defense lawyers can provide federal drug crime suspects with explanations of.

Source: Star Tribune, “High court limits seizure of assets from drug conspiracies,” Sam Hananel, June 5, 2017

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