Be sure to contact an attorney if this happens, because civil asset forfeiture laws are no laughing matter.
Let’s say a working mother is kicking back in her home one evening, reading the news on the internet when she spots an article that reads, “Marijuana Legalization Is Now More Popular Than Jesus Christ.” Upon clicking the link to the story, she sees that not only have 11 states legalized the leaf in a manner similar to alcohol, but that this forward momentum is applying pressure on Capitol Hill lawmakers to end pot prohibition once and for all. “Hmm, times sure are changing,” she says, pondering a day not so long ago when the police would nail a person to the cross for a joint.
It’s just about the time she is finished reading the piece that there is a knock at the door. She gets up to see who it is, only to find officers with the local police department standing there. And they have a search warrant for the residence because someone at that address is suspected of selling marijuana to the neighborhood kids. Well, it’s not mom, so who’s the big dumb dope dealer in the house?
It turns out that Little Jimmy, a high school sophomore, has been moonlighting as a small-time pot dealer. He’s been slinging nickel bags out of his backpack for a few months so that he could afford the new Assassin’s Creed. All was moving along swimmingly, too, until Little Ricky, one of Jim’s ride-or-die buddies, narc’d him out after his mother found some weed in his sock drawer. Now the police are involved, and Little Jimmy might get arrested for marijuana offenses.
In his room, the cops find around two ounces of raw marijuana, various vape pens and edibles and maybe even some paraphernalia. He’s obviously not the next Pablo Escobar, but selling illegal drugs, no matter what, is considered a serious offense here in the great United States of America.
Yep, Jimmy’s going down. The kid might not spend years in prison, but he definitely has some legal problems ahead.
It’s time to get a lawyer, and a good one. Because not only will Jimmy need a reliable defense attorney to see that he doesn’t get into serious trouble, mom may need one, as well, to keep law enforcement from seizing her home. It’s sad to say, but if the prosecutor suspects that the parent knew about Jimmy’s illegal drug operation and did nothing to prevent it from happening, it is conceivable that the state might try to seize her property. Believe it or not, there are federal and state laws that allow the police to take ownership of personal property if it was used (or even thought to have been used) in a crime. So if the prosecution really wants to press the matter, it is certainly possible for someone to lose their home because of a child’s marijuana offense.
What’s really messed up is they don’t have to convict Little Jimmy (or even charge him for the crime) for this injustice to happen. Civil asset forfeiture laws basically allow police to steal other people’s property just because they suspect that something fishy is going down. It is then up to the owner of the property to prove (usually before a judge) that there was absolutely no criminal activity connected to their stuff. Welcome to America, indeed! It may sound crazy to think that the cops can just swoop in and take whatever they want from us because they believe we may be using or selling marijuana, but make no mistake about it, these laws are very real.
Fortunately, if Little Jimmy happened to get busted in a legal state, the cops are probably not going to seize mom’s home. While it is still illegal for minors to possess marijuana (and it’s illegal for anyone to sell it on the black market), the civil asset forfeiture laws are not so militant in places where weed is legal. Seizures for breaking the rules associated with marijuana can happen in legal states, but it’s just not as likely as it is in other areas. At least not for small offenses. But it is worth mentioning that even where marijuana is legal, federal civil asset forfeiture laws still apply. If the DEA or FBI comes-a-knocking, it could mean that you’re about to be homeless.
Fortunately, thanks to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, it is harder these days for law enforcement to make elaborate seizures. The Court found that the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines applies at the state level, placing restrictions on seizures during criminal investigations. So if the prosecutor notices that some teenage kid was selling nickel bags out of his bedroom, they probably aren’t going to try and take possession of their parent’s house. In some states, the primary residence cannot be seized anyway under a homestead exemption clause.
Just remember, the prosecution must have strong evidence that the homeowner had knowledge of Little Jimmy’s criminal activity before they can seize your home and other personal property. But if they try, it is absolutely crucial to contact an attorney with experience in these matters right away. Failing to go to court without proper legal support will only ensure the property is going to be lost forever.