Civil Asset Forfeiture

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Civil Asset Forfeiture Lawyer in Cincinnati, OH

If Cincinnati law enforcement or federal agents seized your property, you stand to lose it through Ohio’s civil asset forfeiture laws. If prosecutors can show that your property includes proceeds resulting from the commission of a criminal offense, it is subject to forfeiture.

You need to know your rights if you want to reclaim your property, and a civil asset forfeiture lawyer from Joslyn Law Firm can help you understand your legal options. Our attorneys have handled more than 20,000 criminal cases throughout Ohio and won several awards.

Brian Joslyn’s knowledge of criminal law has earned him recognition as a subject matter expert that national and local journalists (from ABC6, NBC4, FOX23, 10WBNS, The Columbus Dispatch, and The Plain Dealer) use as a resource when covering topics related to criminal law.

The greatest beneficiaries of our attorneys’ knowledge are our clients. As your lawyers, we will guide you through the complex and high-stakes process of fighting your civil asset forfeiture.

Our Civil Asset Forfeiture Lawyers Will Fight to Reclaim Your Property

As a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, whose property has been seized by government authorities, the more you understand about forfeiture laws, the better.

The most significant thing you should know coming out of the gate is that when you fight civil asset forfeiture, the state will not appoint a criminal defense lawyer to represent you. This is because the “defendant” in this type of case is your seized property, not you. You will need to either handle this extremely complex matter yourself or hire an attorney who can help you navigate the forfeiture proceedings.

Joslyn Law Firm has earned an impeccable reputation throughout Ohio and the entire country. Our firm enjoys the prestige of being a “Top 100” law firm, as designated by the National Trial Lawyers Association. Furthermore, The National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys named Brian Joslyn a “Top 10 Criminal Lawyer” in Ohio.

Our Civil Asset Forfeiture Lawyers Will Help You Every Step of the Way

The state prosecutor will notify you of their plans to pursue forfeiture of your assets, and you will need to adhere to strict procedures and deadlines to beat them at their agenda.

Our team of dedicated trial lawyers—including a former Franklin County public defender and a former Hamilton County Prosecutor—will stay one step ahead of the process at all times and work vigilantly to reclaim your property.

They can tell you how state and/or federal laws apply to the circumstances of the seizure and proposed forfeiture of your property. They will exert pressure and knowledge to see that you do not suffer a violation of your rights.

Call Joslyn Law Firm today for a free case review: (513) 399-6289.

Civil Asset Forfeitures in Cincinnati Information Center

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Overview of Civil Asset Forfeitures in Cincinnati

Ohio Revised Code (R.C.) 2981 specifically outlines the objective of the state’s forfeiture laws. According to the statute:

  • Civil asset forfeiture actions aim to discourage people from committing crimes by establishing economic disincentives and remedies for those crimes.
  • Forfeitures give prosecutors remedial options that help neutralize the economic harm resulting from criminal activity.
  • The state’s forfeiture laws ensure that property owners receive some level of protection by requiring that authorities execute seizures and forfeitures proportionate to the alleged offense.
  • These laws also protect property owners against wrongful forfeiture.
  • The law establishes a system for prioritizing crime victims’ restitution.

The Ohio R.C. 2927. 21 lists all the violations and offenses that would make any asset subject to forfeiture.

Ohio’s Asset Forfeiture Laws Have Changed to Counter Government Abuses

Ohio asset forfeiture laws have undergone several revisions beginning in 2007. The statute, outlined in Ohio Revised Code (R.C.) 2981, represents a revised version of the repealed R.C. 2933.41 and aims to balance the need to limit the government’s power to supersede private property rights against policies that seek to punish offenders and provide remedies for victims.

Despite legislators’ efforts to balance these societal needs, Ohio’s asset forfeiture laws were subject to extreme abuses. The Institute for Justice shines a spotlight on these abuses, which include police seizing and holding on to innocent people’s property. Without a serious fight, these property owners often lose their seized assets—without ever even having committed a crime.

2017 Legislation Sets New Asset Threshold

Ohio Governor John Kasich grew weary of the mounting criticism over these asset laws and their abuses. In 2017, he signed House Bill (HB) 347—and introduced major changes to how law enforcement and courts handle these cases.

HB 347, which you can review at the Ohio Legislature website, establishes under what conditions your personal property is subject to forfeiture. Under the new legislation (R.C. 2981.05), prosecutors cannot pursue civil asset forfeiture for assets valued at under $15,000.

HB 347 Also Establishes New Rules of Evidence

Most remarkably, the bill shifts the burden of proof in a forfeiture case. Now, the burden of proof falls on the prosecutors’ shoulders, rather than the property owner having to prove their innocence of a criminal offense. Furthermore, the standard of proof has been elevated to that of “clear and convincing evidence,” the highest standard in civil courts.

In layman’s terms, the clear and convincing evidence standard requires that the prosecutor present evidence that is highly and substantially more probable to be true rather than untrue. This makes it harder for prosecutors to prove their case than with the former “preponderance of evidence” standard, which required only that there be a greater than 50 percent chance that the prosecution’s claim is true.

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Penalties for Civil Asset Forfeitures in Cincinnati

The greatest irony of civil asset forfeiture is that this penalizing action occurs regardless of whether a person has been charged or convicted of a crime.

We have reviewed some steps that legislators have taken to combat the inherent wrongs of such forfeiture actions. For many people, however, the steps are not enough. For those who do not know their rights, recovery of property can quickly become a remote possibility (be sure to read the news coverage of civil asset forfeiture below).

Penalties for Cincinnati/Northern International Airport (CVG) Seizures

When you travel with large sums of cash or monetary instruments, you risk sending a red flag to law enforcement officers that you might be engaged in drug trafficking or money laundering. If Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP)  suspects your involvement in such an offense, they can seize your cash under the rules of probable cause.

This also holds true for federal agents and drug task force officers at the Cincinnati International Airport. To deter dirty money or cash to be used for drug trafficking from crossing international borders, the airport requires that you report cash and monetary instruments valued at $10,000 or more.

Customs agents must advise you of the need to complete a Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Form 105 when you are traveling internationally with such a large amount of cash. Failure to comply with this requirement could result in seizure of your cash, on top of $500,000 in fines and up to 10 years in prison.

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Defenses Against Civil Asset Forfeitures in Ohio

Our lawyers understand the frustration and helplessness that accompany having your private property taken from you. Although recovery of your assets is not a simple process, there are defenses we can mount in our efforts to reclaim your assets.

  • Your innocence: Your property cannot be proceeds or facilitator of a crime if no crime was committed.
  • Proportionality: If the value of the seized property is not proportionate to the alleged crime, forfeiture would violate Ohio statute.
  • Procedural violation: If police or prosecutors miss a deadline or otherwise do not adhere to the proper procedures for seizure and/or forfeiture, we can argue a procedural violation to reclaim your property.
  • Illegal search and seizure: There’s a fine line that divides your property rights and the rights of the government to search you and seize your property. If authorities crossed that line, we would use this violation in court to win your case.

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Additional Resources for Civil Asset Forfeitures in Ohio


Go to the FinCEN site to download a PDF of the FinCEN Form 105. Remember, the government requires you to report cash and/or monetary instruments in excess of $10,000 when your travel plans cross international borders. Submit the form to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Information Center

If you need to carry large sums of currency or monetary instruments (money orders, cashier’s checks, traveler’s checks, and so on) on an international flight, you would do well to visit the CBP Information Center. This resource tells you everything you need to know about reporting cash and these monetary instruments.

For example, you can take as much as you want to on an international flight, provided you report it. Also, if the total amount of cash and monetary instruments in your group exceeds $10,000, you must still report it as a joint declaration.

Ohio Public Defender (OPD) Commission

The OPD Commission publishes the Franklin County Criminal Law Casebook. This page of the website, in particular, delves into the topic of forfeiture. It spells out definitions of the various forfeiture-related terms used in the Ohio R.C., and defines your rights versus law enforcement’s rights.

Of particular use, the page presents a collection of cases that speak to courts’ decisions regarding defenses of proportionality, adherence to procedural requirements, innocence, and other general forfeiture issues.

Ohio Supreme Court  – State v. Lilliock

One of the most widely referenced court decisions in asset forfeiture cases, State v. Lilliock presents the Ohio Supreme Court’s acknowledgment that forfeiture statutes are a “derogation of private property rights.” Furthermore, the court noted that these laws “must be strictly construed.”

The case centered on William R. Lilliock, a man who was charged with breaking and entering and receiving stolen property, which he transported in his van. Lilliock was convicted of receiving stolen property, and prosecutors filed an application for disposition of the vehicle.

The court declared the van forfeited. Lilliock appealed the conviction and the forfeiture. The conviction was upheld but the forfeiture was vacated, with Justice Clifford F. Brown stating that “forfeitures are not favored in law or equity” and that “Whenever possible, such statutes must be construed so as to avoid a forfeiture of the property.”

The Institute for Justice “Policing for Profit” Report

The Institute for Justice published its 3rd edition of its “Policing for Profit” report in 2020. Read this report to learn how government authorities seize, track, account for, and spend seized property. Researchers gathered data representing state forfeiture revenues, which you can compare with data from across the country showcasing various states’ asset forfeiture laws.

After analyzing Ohio’s forfeiture statutes and programs relative to those of other states, the Institute for Justice gave the state a score of D- for its civil forfeiture laws.

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News About Civil Asset Forfeitures in Cincinnati

May 12, 2021

Preble County Sheriff’s Office Enlists New K-9 Unit

According to this WHIOTV7 report, Preble County Sheriff’s Office used funds from asset forfeitures to pay for 60 percent of its new K-9 unit. Sheriff Mike Simpson boasted about the effectiveness of the funding, describing it as “a good return,” because criminals paid for the new unit. The police department intends to use the K-9 unit in their narcotics investigations and other police work.

November 25, 2020

How to Beat Legalized Larceny

Reason Magazine published this article that depicts the government as “bullies” who use civil forfeiture laws to seize property from innocent people. The writer further alleges that the complex task of challenging a civil asset forfeiture results in people who are not represented by legal counsel to back down.

On the other hand, the author suggests that the moment these government “bullies” meet with some resistance, they “tend to back down.” The article delves into a class-action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice (IJ), in which the IJ argues that the DEA violates Fourth Amendment protections with their airport seizures.

June 11, 2020

Local Study Examines Nationwide Police Use of Militarized Equipment

Cincinnati Public Radio writes about Cincinnati Edition’s reaching out to the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) about its participation in the 1033 Program, which makes excess military property available to law enforcement agencies. According to the report, CPD responded that the equipment used by its officers is purchased using asset forfeiture funds, Federal Homeland Security grants, or General Funds.

The piece also promotes a 2017 study co-authored by a University of Cincinnati professor. The study showed a statistically higher involvement in officer killings among law enforcement agencies that participate in the 1033 program.

September 20, 2017

A Fund for All Occasions

This article in CityBeat explores how a forfeiture fund under Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has been used for purchases other than those for which the fund was intended—namely, drug abuse prevention programs and law enforcement expenses.

According to the article, Hamilton County prosecutor’s office established a $1.7 million fund from seized assets, and the fund is not incorporated into budgetary documents, nor audited, or posted online.

The report reveals multiple questionable uses of the funds, including $15,000 on “briefcases for attorneys,” $200,000 on real estate consulting, and $2.2 million on information technology contracts with a friend of Deters for which no competitive bids were considered.

June 30, 2015

Drug Cops Took a College Kid’s Savings and Now 13 Police Departments Want a Cut

The Washington Post covered a 2014 DEA seizure of $11,000 in cash from a college student. The seizure occurred at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport. Although no drugs, guns, or other contraband were discovered, task force officers considered multiple factors when deciding to seize the currency: the odor of marijuana from the student’s checked baggage, the fact that the student had bought a one-way ticket; the student’s inability to prove where he had gotten the cash.

Task force officers said they believed that the money was connected to drug trafficking activity. The article presents a chart that shows how the $11,000 would be distributed to various law enforcement agencies under the Equitable Sharing Program.

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FAQs About Civil Asset Forfeitures in Ohio

Q. What Assets Can Be Seized in Asset Forfeiture?

If the government suspects that certain property facilitated the commission of a crime or was obtained as the result of a criminal offense, law enforcement or a federal agency can seize the property, whether it be cash, guns, drugs, cars, boats, houses, and so on.

Q. What Is the Difference Between Criminal and Civil Forfeiture?

Prosecutors bring a criminal forfeiture action in connection with prosecuting a defendant for a criminal offense. The action is brought against the defendant and only when the defendant has been convicted of a crime. Civil asset forfeiture is considered an in rem (against the property) action and does not require a criminal charge or conviction of the property’s owner.

Q. What Is the Purpose of Civil Asset Forfeiture?

Civil asset forfeiture aims to deter criminal activity with economic disincentives and bring remedial options to offset the economic damage that results from crime. Forfeiture laws seek to balance the need for punishment and remedial action with the property owner’s rights against wrongful forfeiture.

Q. Can Police Take Your Possessions?

Yes, police can seize your property when you are arrested and/or when they merely suspect that your property was used to commit a crime or is the proceeds of a crime. Officers will give you a voucher listing the property they seized. You will also be issued a notice of their intent to take a forfeiture action.

Q. How Can I Get My Seized Money Back?

Ohio RC 2981 states that you can try to reclaim your seized money by fling a motion in the appropriate court. The motion should specify your interest in the money, as well as why the seizure was unlawful, and your request for the return of the cash. A civil asset forfeiture lawyer can help you file this petition.

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Cincinnati Civil Asset Forfeitures Lawyer

The attorneys at Joslyn Law Firm know how frustrating it can be to have your property seized, especially with the added threat of forfeiture. If law enforcement officials or federal agents seized your property, we can fight to have it returned to you.

We will help you file a motion for the return of your property and handle all the deadlines and litigation that stem from this motion. Remember, the court will not appoint an attorney for you—it is up to you to find legal counsel that knows state and federal laws governing seizures and forfeitures.

Call Joslyn Law Firm today for a free case review: (513) 399-6289.

  • Brian Joslyn was named Best Lawyer in 2019 by Birdeye.
  • Columbus CEO magazine has yearly selections for the best attorneys in Columbus Ohio. Brian Joslyn has been identified as one of the most highly skilled attorneys across central Ohio.
  • Brian Joslyn has earned recognition for community leadership by Lawyer LegionLawyer Legion
  • Preeminent Attorney Award. Peer rated for highest level of professional excellence.
  • The Better Business Bureau (BBB), founded in 1912, is a private, nonprofit organization whose self-described mission is to focus on advancing marketplace trust.

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