Can the Police Seize Your Cash or Money in Maryland?

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During police investigations, officers sometimes seize items like mobile phones and drugs that can be important evidence in a prosecution. They may also take cash even though it’s seldom important evidence against you. The police can seize your cash or money in Maryland in certain circumstances.

Maryland has a historic reputation for strict “civil forfeiture” laws. This means police can use a civil process to take your cash or other valuables.

In the past, people did not have to be convicted to lose their cash. It was even possible to have your money taken away if you were not charged with a crime. Recent reforms helped property owners. However, we are still asked: “Can the police seize your cash or money in Maryland?’ Baltimore criminal defense lawyer Randolph Rice addresses the question in this blog.

When Police Can Seize Your Cash or Money in Maryland

Civil asset forfeiture is a wide-ranging tool that is used by both federal authorities and states. Maryland was listed by Vox as a state that can seize money and other assets, even if the defendant has not been convicted of a crime.

Before 2016 police officers could take someone’s property without proving the person was guilty of any crime; they just had to show probable cause to believe the assets were being used as part of criminal activity, usually drug trafficking.

Police departments can use the property under a federal program called Equitable Sharing. This allows local authorities and police departments to get up to 80 percent of the value of the item or money seized to fund their departments.

In 2016, Maryland passed legislation that placed more restrictions on asset forfeiture. In practice, this means police should not be able to seize cash from people who have not been charged with crimes. The legislation:

  • Raised the standard of proof for taking someone’s money or property to “clear and convincing evidence.”
  • Requires a criminal conviction to forfeit an owner’s principal family home;
  • Establishes new reporting requirements for all seizures and forfeitures. Any agency that takes money or property must report how they spent the profits of forfeiture. It is now necessary to establish whether criminal charges or convictions accompanied the forfeiture case, as well as the gender and race of property owners affected by a seizure;
  • Repealed a provision that authorized money to be taken for drug possession offenses. However, it’s still possible for the police to seize your cash or money in Maryland for drug trafficking, unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensing of controlled substances, or other drug crime in Maryland.
  • Set up new deadlines for agencies to seize money or property. Failure to meet the deadlines carries an obligation to return the seized property.
  • Bans the transfer of seized cash to federal agencies unless the amount taken is over $50,000 or a federal warrant is made for the transfer.
  • Directs a fifth of the proceeds of asset forfeiture to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to fund drug treatment and education programs

Importantly, the legislation gave a presumption of innocence in civil forfeiture cases. Previously, the owners had to prove cash or belongings were not the proceeds of crime. The change requires that the state prove that property owners violated the law or knowingly allowed their property to be used in crimes.

In drug cases, police can only forfeit cash under $300 if they can prove it is the proceeds of the drug trade. Although Maryland’s civil asset forfeiture law is now less severe than in many states, the police may still seize your cash or money in Maryland. If the police believe amounts of over $300 are used or intended to be used in the drug trade, they can seize it and it can be very difficult to get the money back. Police can also seize money under Maryland law if it’s directly connected to illegal drug distribution.

Does the Government Need Permission from the Court to Take Your Money in Maryland?

Typically, a judge must sign a warrant that identifies the property in question before the police take your property. In certain circumstances, police can confiscate your money without a seizure warrant. They include:

  • A seizure after the execution of ta search under a search warrant or an arrest;
  • The property was meant to already be in the possession of the state;
  • The seizure falls under an administrative inspection warrant such as when an inspector is investigating a housing code violation;
  • Probable cause that the property was or will be used illegally exists;
  • Probable cause exists that the property is hazardous to safety or public health.

How Do You Know if Your Cash or Money Has Been Seized in Maryland?

Under the Maryland asset forfeiture law, the authorities that seized the property are required to inform you they have taken it within 30 days. The notice must be given by first-class mail and the owner must be given:

  1. A description of the property that was seized and its location.
  2. The name and contact details of the office or person who can give you further information including how you can challenge the seizure and the action required to get your property back.

Talk to a Maryland Criminal Defense Lawyer About Asset Seizures and Forfeitures

Although the rules about the seizure of money or cash have been tightened up in the owner’s favor over the last few years, it can still be tough to get your money, cash or other property back. The seizure of your cash is a civil process while any charges against you take place in a criminal court. It’s important to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can help you with both proceedings at the same time. At Rice, Murtha & Psoras, our attorney is aware of the pressures of a criminal case. If you lose cash and have to fight your money back, the process becomes more stressful. Talk to us as soon as possible if the police seize your money in Maryland at (410) 431-0911.


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