White Collar

       “White collar” crime usually indicates a crime that is committed using exceptional trickery or fraud.  White collar crimes are frequently financial in nature and typically involve using one’s brains as opposed to a gun or force.

       Different organizations have different definitions of what fits into the category of white collar crime.  Different police departments, District attorneys’ offices, etc… might have different ideas about what exactly a white collar crime is.

       One thing you can be sure of is that if you are accused of one of these crimes you will be facing the best prosecutors that a District Attorney’s office has to offer.  Not only will the prosecutor be of the highest quality, but they will have more time to devote to their cases than the average prosecutor.

       Frequently, Prosecutors will also try to force you to give them money which may or may not have been involved in the alleged “crime”.  This is known as “asset forfeiture” There are two types of asset forfeiture.  There is “criminal asset forfeiture” which is asset forfeiture that is attached to a criminal case and “civil asset forfeiture” which is an entirely separate proceeding.  Both types of asset forfeiture are becoming more common, as well as becoming more and more controversial.

       There are many procedural traps and pitfalls that can cost a person their right to contest an asset forfeiture.  Law enforcement gets to keep most of the money that they confiscate.  An individual does not have to be convicted or even charged in order to have their money or property forfeited.  In some cases a person does not have to have committed or even been suspected of committing a crime in order for the government to seize their property.

       An example of this is .39 Acres v. State of TexasCivil forfeiture cases tend to have unusual names like this because the lawsuit is against the property.  In .39 Acres the “Dew Drop Inn” was the location of a drug deal.  The owner of the property was renting it out and was never accused of being involved in the bar business, drug use or drug dealing.  Under the theory that the the bar was “contraband” the Government seized it.  There were never any criminal convictions against anyone involved in the case.

       The organization “Forfeiture Endangers American Rights” has done a great deal to publicize the abuses of civil and criminal forfeiture laws.  They were instrumental in the passage of “C.A.F.R.A.”, which is the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000.  Even though there were some great reforms passed, much more needs to be done.

       Civil asset forfeiture is full of procedural dangers that must be handled correctly.   There are some mistakes that can cost a citizen everything, regardless of whether or not they have a valid case.  For example, there are defenses that must be raised specifically in the initial “answer” to the government’s petition.

       Sometimes a lawyer that is not familiar with civil asset forfeiture will file a “general denial”.  This is typical in many types of cases.  Many lawyers have done this with the intent to be more specific later.  These lawyers did not realize that if a lawyer does not make some very specific pleadings in some specific cases, that lawyer will waive certain defenses.

       Also, at the time of a seizure it is common for a citizen to receive a “Petition for Remission or Mitigation” form.  It is a fairly straightforward form.  It tells the citizen clearly what must be done to ask for some or all of their property or money back from the agency that seized it.  It does not say that anyone that files a “Petition for Remission” immediately gives up the right to contest the seizure in court.

       If the agency that has seized the property evaluates the “Petition for Remission or Mitigation” and determines that they were correct to make the seizure the case is over.  The person that had their property or money taken will get nothing.  Many people have been shocked to find out that they gave up all their rights and there is nothing they can do to take it back.

       Generally speaking, it is preferable to contest the seizure in court as opposed to filing a “Petition for Remission or Mitigation”.  Every case is different, however.  It is important for a citizen to be completely educated and aware what is happening before they make decision that they can not take back.

       Make certain that your attorney is experienced in criminal defense and defending both criminal and civil asset forfeiture cases.  Asset forfeiture is controlled by chapter 59 of the Texas code of Criminal Procedure.

       An average defense attorney is no match for an “average” white collar prosecutor. If you are facing a white collar crime prosecution you need immediate representation. There are typically two prosecutions conducted at the same time.  One about the money and the other about punishment.  This creates additional problems and opportunities which your attorney must understand.

       If you suspect you are even the target of a white collar investigation, say nothing and get help as quickly as possible. Staying out of trouble is always better than getting out of trouble.