Code of Virginia

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Code of Virginia
Title 19.2. Criminal Procedure
Chapter 22.1. Enforcement of Forfeitures
1/19/2021

Chapter 22.1. Enforcement of Forfeitures.

§ 19.2-386.1. Commencing an action of forfeiture.

A. Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, whenever any property is forfeited to the Commonwealth by reason of the violation of any law, or if any statute provides for the forfeiture of any property or money, or if any property or money be seized as forfeited for a violation of any of the provisions of this Code, the Commonwealth shall follow the procedures set forth in this chapter.

B. An action against any property subject to seizure under the provisions of Chapter 22.2 (§ 19.2-386.15 et seq.) shall be commenced by the filing of an information in the clerk's office of the circuit court. Any information shall be filed in the name of the Commonwealth by the attorney for the Commonwealth or may be filed by the Attorney General if so requested by the attorney for the Commonwealth. Venue for an action of forfeiture shall lie in the county or city where (i) the property is located, (ii) the property is seized, or (iii) an owner of the property or the person in whose custody the property is found could be prosecuted for the illegal conduct alleged to give rise to the forfeiture. Such information shall (a) name as parties defendant all owners and lienholders then known or of record and the trustees named in any deed of trust securing such lienholder, (b) specifically describe the property, (c) set forth in general terms the grounds for forfeiture of the named property, (d) pray that the same be condemned and sold or otherwise be disposed of according to law, and (e) ask that all persons concerned or interested be notified to appear and show cause why such property should not be forfeited. In all cases, an information shall be filed within three years of the date of actual discovery by the Commonwealth of the last act giving rise to the forfeiture or the action for forfeiture will be barred.

C. Any action of forfeiture commenced under this section shall be stayed until the court in which the owner of the property or the person in whose custody the property is found is being prosecuted for an offense authorizing the forfeiture finds the owner or the person in whose custody the property is found guilty of any offense that authorizes forfeiture of such property, and any property eligible for forfeiture under the provisions of any statute shall be forfeited only upon such finding of guilt of the owner or the person in whose custody the property is found, regardless of whether the owner or the person in whose custody the property is found has been sentenced. If no such finding is made by the court, all property seized shall be released from seizure no later than 21 days from the date the stay terminates. However, property that has been seized may be forfeited pursuant to the procedures set forth in this chapter even though no finding of guilt is made if (i) such forfeiture is ordered by a court pursuant to a lawful plea agreement or (ii) the owner of the property or the person in whose custody the property was found has not submitted a written demand for the return of the property with the law-enforcement agency that seized the property within 21 days from the date the stay terminates.

1989, c. 690; 1991, c. 560; 2002, cc. 588, 623; 2004, c. 995; 2012, cc. 283, 756; 2020, c. 1000.

§ 19.2-386.2. Seizure of named property.

A. When any property subject to seizure under Chapter 22.2 (§ 19.2-386.15 et seq.) or other provision under the Code has not been seized at the time an information naming that property is filed, the clerk of the circuit court or a judge of the circuit court, upon motion of the attorney for the Commonwealth wherein the information is filed, shall issue a warrant to the sheriff or other state or local law-enforcement officer authorized to serve criminal process in the jurisdiction where the property is located, describing the property named in the complaint and authorizing its immediate seizure.

B. In all cases of seizure of real property, a notice of lis pendens shall be filed with the clerk of the circuit court of the county or city wherein the property is located and shall be indexed in the land records in the name or names of those persons whose interests appear to be affected thereby.

C. When any property is seized for the purposes of forfeiture under Chapter 22.2 (§ 19.2-386.15 et seq.) or other forfeiture provision under the Code, the agency seizing the property shall, as soon as practicable after the seizure, conduct an inventory of the seized property and shall, as soon as practicable, provide a copy of the inventory to the owner. An agency's failure to provide a copy of an inventory pursuant to this subsection shall not invalidate any forfeiture.

D. When any property is seized for the purposes of forfeiture under Chapter 22.2 (§ 19.2-386.15 et seq.) or other forfeiture provision under the Code, and an information naming that property has not been filed, neither the agency seizing the property nor any other law-enforcement agency may request, require, or in any manner induce any person who asserts ownership, lawful possession, or any lawful right to the property to waive his interest in or rights to the property until an information has been filed.

1989, c. 690; 2002, cc. 588, 623; 2004, c. 995; 2006, c. 766; 2012, cc. 283, 756; 2015, c. 769; 2016, cc. 203, 423.

§ 19.2-386.2:1. Notice to Commissioner of Department of Motor Vehicles; duties of Commissioner.

If the property seized is a motor vehicle required by the motor vehicle laws of Virginia to be registered, the attorney for the Commonwealth shall forthwith notify the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, by certified mail, or electronically in a format prescribed by the Commissioner, of such seizure and the motor number of the vehicle so seized, and the Commissioner shall promptly certify to such attorney for the Commonwealth the name and address of the person in whose name such vehicle is registered, together with the name and address of any person holding a lien thereon. The Commissioner shall also forthwith notify such registered owner and lienor, in writing, of the reported seizure and the county or city wherein such seizure was made.

The certificate of the Commissioner, concerning such registration and lien, shall be received in evidence in any proceeding, either civil or criminal, under any provision of this chapter, in which such facts may be material to the issue involved.

2012, cc. 283, 756; 2016, cc. 203, 423.

§ 19.2-386.3. Notice of seizure for forfeiture and notice of motion for judgment.

A. If an information has not been filed, then upon seizure of any property under Chapter 22.2 (§ 19.2-386.15 et seq.) or other provision under the Code, the agency seizing the property shall forthwith notify in writing the attorney for the Commonwealth in the county or city in which the seizure occurred, who shall, within 21 days of receipt of such notice, file a notice of seizure for forfeiture with the clerk of the circuit court. Such notice of seizure for forfeiture shall specifically describe the property seized, set forth in general terms the grounds for seizure, identify the date on which the seizure occurred, and identify all owners and lien holders then known or of record, including the treasurer of the locality in which the seized property is located. The clerk shall forthwith mail by first-class mail notice of seizure for forfeiture to the last known address of all identified owners and lien holders. When property has been seized under Chapter 22.2 (§ 19.2-386.15 et seq.) or other provision under the Code prior to filing an information, then an information against that property shall be filed within 90 days of the date of seizure or the property shall be released to the owner or lien holder.

B. Except as to corporations, all parties defendant shall be served, in accordance with § 8.01-296, with a copy of the information and a notice to appear prior to any motion for default judgment on the information. The notice shall contain a statement warning the party defendant that his interest in the property shall be subject to forfeiture to the Commonwealth unless within 30 days after service on him of the notice, or before the date set forth in the order of publication with respect to the notice, an answer under oath is filed in the proceeding setting forth (i) the nature of the defendant's claim, (ii) the exact right, title or character of the ownership or interest in the property and the evidence thereof, and (iii) the reason, cause, exemption or defense he may have against the forfeiture of his interest in the property, including but not limited to the exemptions set forth in § 19.2-386.8. Service upon corporations shall be made in accordance with § 8.01-299 or subdivision 1 or 2 of § 8.01-301; however, if such service cannot be thus made, it shall be made by publication in accordance with § 8.01-317.

1989, c. 690; 1991, c. 560; 1996, c. 673; 2002, cc. 588, 623; 2004, c. 995; 2011, c. 83; 2012, cc. 283, 756.

§ 19.2-386.4. Records and handling of seized property.

Any agency seizing property under § 19.2-386.2, Chapter 22.2 (§ 19.2-386.15 et seq.), or other provision under the Code, pending forfeiture and final disposition, may do any of the following:

1. Place the property under constructive seizure by posting notice of seizure for forfeiture on the property or by filing notice of seizure for forfeiture in any appropriate public record relating to property;

2. Remove the property to a storage area for safekeeping or, if the property is a negotiable instrument or money, deposit it in an interest-bearing account;

3. Remove the property to a place designated by the circuit court in the county or city wherein the property was seized; or

4. Provide for another custodian or agency to take custody of the property and remove it to an appropriate location within or without the jurisdiction of the circuit court in the county or city wherein the property was seized or in which the complaint was filed.

A report regarding the type of property subject to forfeiture and its handling pursuant to this section and § 19.2-386.5, and the final disposition of the property shall be filed by the seizing agency with the Department of Criminal Justice Services in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Board.

1989, c. 690; 1991, c. 560; 2002, cc. 588, 623; 2004, c. 995; 2012, cc. 283, 756.

§ 19.2-386.5. Release of seized property.

At any time prior to the filing of an information, the attorney for the Commonwealth in the county or city in which the property has been seized pursuant to Chapter 22.2 (§ 19.2-386.15 et seq.) or other provision under the Code may, in his discretion, upon the payment of costs incident to the custody of the seized property, return the seized property to an owner or lien holder, without requiring that the owner or lien holder post bond as provided in § 19.2-386.6, if he believes the property is properly exempt from forfeiture pursuant to § 19.2-386.8.

1989, c. 690; 2002, cc. 588, 623; 2004, c. 995; 2012, cc. 283, 756.

§ 19.2-386.6. Bond to secure possession.

If the owner or lien holder of the named property desires to obtain possession thereof before the hearing on the information filed against the same, such property shall be appraised by the clerk of the court where such information is filed. The clerk shall promptly cause the property to be appraised at its fair cash value, and forthwith make return thereof in writing to the court. Any appraisal fee shall be taxed as costs as provided in § 19.2-386.12. Upon the return of the appraisal, the owner or lien holder may give a bond payable to the Commonwealth, in a penalty of the amount equal to the appraised value of the property plus the court costs which may accrue, with security to be approved by the clerk and conditioned for the performance of the final judgment of the court, on the trial of the information. A further condition shall be that, if upon the hearing on the information, the judgment of the court is that such property, or any part thereof, or such interest and equity as the owner or lien holder may have therein, is forfeited, judgment may thereupon be entered against the obligors on such bond for the penalty thereof, without further or other proceedings against them thereon, to be discharged by the payment of the appraised value of the property so seized and forfeited, and costs. Upon such judgment, execution may issue, on which the clerk shall endorse, "No security to be taken." Upon giving of the bond, the property shall be delivered to the owner or lien holder.

1989, c. 690.

§ 19.2-386.7. Sale of property liable to deterioration.

If the property seized is perishable or liable to deterioration, decay, or injury by being detained in custody pending the proceedings, the circuit court for the county or city in which the information is filed or in which the property is located, may order the same to be sold upon such notice as the court, in its discretion, may deem proper and hold the proceeds of sale pending the final disposition of such proceedings.

1989, c. 690.

§ 19.2-386.8. Exemptions.

The following exemptions shall apply to property otherwise subject to forfeiture:

1. No conveyance used by any person as a lawfully certified common carrier in the transaction of business as a common carrier may be forfeited under the provisions of this section unless the owner of the conveyance was a consenting party or privy to the conduct giving rise to forfeiture or knew or had reason to know of it.

2. No conveyance may be forfeited under the provisions of this section for any conduct committed by a person other than the owner while the conveyance was unlawfully in the possession of a person other than the owner in violation of the criminal laws of this Commonwealth, or any other state, the District of Columbia, the United States or any territory thereof.

3. No owner's interest may be forfeited under this chapter if the court finds that:

a. He did not know and had no reason to know of the conduct giving rise to forfeiture;

b. He was a bona fide purchaser for value without notice;

c. The conduct giving rise to forfeiture occurred without his connivance or consent, express or implied; or

d. The conduct giving rise to forfeiture was committed by a tenant of a residential or commercial property owned by a landlord, and the landlord did not know or have reason to know of the tenant's conduct.

4. No lien holder's interest may be forfeited under this chapter if the court finds that:

a. The lien holder did not know of the conduct giving rise to forfeiture at the time the lien was granted;

b. The lien holder held a bona fide lien on the property subject to forfeiture and had perfected the same in the manner prescribed by law prior to seizure of the property; and

c. The conduct giving rise to forfeiture occurred without his connivance or consent, express or implied.

In the event the interest has been sold to a bona fide purchaser for value in order to avoid the provisions of this chapter, the Commonwealth shall have a right of action against the seller of the property for the proceeds of the sale.

1989, c. 690; 2005, c. 883.

§ 19.2-386.9. Appearance by owner or lien holder.

Any person claiming to be an owner or lien holder of the named property may appear at any time within thirty days after service on him of notice to appear or on or before the date certain set forth in any order of publication under § 8.01-317 or such longer time as the court in its discretion may allow to prevent a miscarriage of justice. Any person without actual or constructive notice of the forfeiture proceedings claiming to be an owner or lienholder may appear at any time before final judgment of the trial court and be made a party to the action. Such appearance shall be by answer, under oath, which shall clearly set forth (i) the nature of the defendant's claim; (ii) the exact right, title or character of the ownership or interest in the property and the evidence thereof; and (iii) the reason, cause, exemption or defense he may have against the forfeiture of the property.

1989, c. 690; 1991, c. 560.

§ 19.2-386.10. Forfeiture; default judgment; remission; trial.

A. A party defendant who fails to appear as provided in § 19.2-386.9 shall be in default. The forfeiture shall be deemed established as to the interest of any party in default upon entry of judgment as provided in § 19.2-386.11. Within 21 days after entry of judgment, any party defendant against whom judgment has been so entered may petition the Department of Criminal Justice Services for remission of his interest in the forfeited property. For good cause shown and upon proof by a preponderance of the evidence that the party defendant's interest in the property is exempt under subdivision 2, 3, or 4 of § 19.2-386.8, the Department of Criminal Justice Services shall grant the petition and direct the state treasury to either (i) remit to the party defendant an amount not exceeding the party defendant's interest in the proceeds of sale of the forfeited property after deducting expenses incurred and payable pursuant to subsection B of § 19.2-386.12 or (ii) convey clear and absolute title to the forfeited property in extinguishment of such interest.

If any party defendant appears in accordance with § 19.2-386.9, the court shall proceed to trial of the case, unless trial by jury is demanded by the Commonwealth or any party defendant. At trial, the Commonwealth has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture under this chapter. Upon such a showing by the Commonwealth, the claimant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the claimant's interest in the property is exempt under subdivision 2, 3, or 4 of § 19.2-386.8.

B. The information and trial thereon shall be independent of any criminal proceeding against any party or other person for violation of law.

1989, c. 690; 1991, c. 560; 2016, cc. 203, 423, 664; 2020, c. 1000.

§ 19.2-386.11. Judgment of condemnation; destruction.

A. If the forfeiture is established, the judgment shall be that the property be condemned as forfeited to the Commonwealth subject to any remission granted under subsection A of § 19.2-386.10 and further that the same be sold, unless (i) a sale thereof has been already made under § 19.2-386.7, (ii) the court determines that the property forfeited is of such minimal value that the sale would not be in the best interest of the Commonwealth or (iii) the court finds that the property may be subject to return to a participating agency. If the court finds that the property may be subject to return to an agency participating in the seizure in accordance with subsection C of § 19.2-386.14, the order shall provide for storage of the property until the determination to return it is made or, if return is not made, for sale of the property as provided in this section and § 19.2-386.12. If sale has been made, the judgment shall be against the proceeds of sale, subject to the rights of any lien holder whose interest is not forfeited. If the property condemned has been delivered to the claimant under § 19.2-386.6, further judgment shall be against the obligors in the bond for the penalty thereof, to be discharged by the payment of the appraised value of the property, upon which judgment, process of execution shall be awarded and the clerk shall endorse thereon, "No security is to be taken."

B. Forfeited cash and negotiable instruments shall be disposed of pursuant to the provisions of § 19.2-386.12.

C. Contraband, the sale or possession of which is unlawful, weapons and property not sold because of the minimal value thereof, may be ordered destroyed by the court.

1989, c. 690; 1991, c. 560; 1993, c. 484.

§ 19.2-386.12. Sale of forfeited property.

A. Any sale of forfeited property shall be made for cash, after due advertisement. The sale shall be by public sale or other commercially feasible means authorized by the court in the order of forfeiture and shall vest in the purchaser a clear and absolute title to the property sold subject to the rights of any lien holder whose interest is not forfeited. The proceeds of sale, and whatever may be realized on any bond given under § 19.2-386.6, and any money forfeited shall be paid over to the state treasury into a special fund of the Department of Criminal Justice Services in accordance with § 19.2-386.14.

B. In all cases of forfeiture under this section, the actual expenses incident to the custody, preservation, and management of the seized property prior to forfeiture, the actual expenses incident to normal legal proceedings to perfect the Commonwealth's interest in the seized property through forfeiture, and the actual expenses incident to the sale thereof, including commissions, shall be taxed as costs and shall be paid to the person or persons who incurred these costs out of the net proceeds from the sale of such property. If there are no proceeds, the actual expenses shall be paid by the Commonwealth from the Criminal Fund. Actual expenses in excess of the available net proceeds shall be paid by the Commonwealth from the Criminal Fund. The party or parties in interest to any forfeiture proceeding commenced under this section shall be entitled to reasonable attorney's fees and costs if the forfeiture proceeding is terminated in favor of such party or parties. Such fees and costs shall be paid by the Commonwealth from the Criminal Fund.

The residue, if any, shall be paid and disbursed as provided in subsection A of § 19.2-386.10 and § 19.2-386.14 and regulations promulgated by the Criminal Justice Services Board.

1989, c. 690; 1991, c. 560.

§ 19.2-386.13. Writ of error and supersedeas.

For the purpose of review on a writ of error or supersedeas, a final judgment or order in the cause shall be deemed a final judgment or order within the meaning of subsection A of § 8.01-670.

1989, c. 690; 2005, c. 681.

§ 19.2-386.14. Sharing of forfeited assets.

A. All cash, negotiable instruments, and proceeds from a sale conducted pursuant to § 19.2-386.7 or 19.2-386.12, after deduction of expenses, fees, and costs as provided in § 19.2-386.12, shall, as soon after entry of the forfeiture as is practicable, be distributed in a manner consistent with this chapter and Article VIII, Section 8 of the Constitution of Virginia.

A1. All cash, negotiable instruments and proceeds from a sale conducted pursuant to § 19.2-386.7 or 19.2-386.12, after deduction of expenses, fees and costs as provided in § 19.2-386.12, shall, as soon after entry of the forfeiture as is practicable, be paid over to the state treasury into a special fund of the Department of Criminal Justice Services for distribution in accordance with this section. The forfeited property and proceeds, less 10 percent, shall be made available to federal, state and local agencies to promote law enforcement in accordance with this section and regulations adopted by the Criminal Justice Services Board to implement the asset-sharing program.

The 10 percent retained by the Department shall be held in a nonreverting fund, known as the Asset Sharing Administrative Fund. Administrative costs incurred by the Department to manage and operate the asset-sharing program shall be paid from the Fund. Any amounts remaining in the Fund after payment of these costs shall be used to promote state or local law-enforcement activities. Distributions from the Fund for these activities shall be based upon need and shall be made from time to time in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Board.

B. Any federal, state or local agency or office that directly participated in the investigation or other law-enforcement activity which led, directly or indirectly, to the seizure and forfeiture shall be eligible for, and may petition the Department for, return of the forfeited asset or an equitable share of the net proceeds, based upon the degree of participation in the law-enforcement effort resulting in the forfeiture, taking into account the total value of all property forfeited and the total law-enforcement effort with respect to the violation of law on which the forfeiture is based. Upon finding that the petitioning agency is eligible for distribution and that all participating agencies agree on the equitable share of each, the Department shall distribute each share directly to the appropriate treasury of the participating agency.

If all eligible participating agencies cannot agree on the equitable shares of the net proceeds, the shares shall be determined by the Criminal Justice Services Board in accordance with regulations which shall specify the criteria to be used by the Board in assessing the degree of participation in the law-enforcement effort resulting in the forfeiture.

C. After the order of forfeiture is entered concerning any motor vehicle, boat, aircraft, or other tangible personal property, any seizing agency may (i) petition the Department for return of the property that is not subject to a grant or pending petition for remission or (ii) request the circuit court to order the property destroyed. Where all the participating agencies agree upon the equitable distribution of the tangible personal property, the Department shall return the property to those agencies upon finding that (a) the agency meets the criteria for distribution as set forth in subsection B and (b) the agency has a clear and reasonable law-enforcement need for the forfeited property.

If all eligible participating agencies cannot agree on the distribution of the property, distribution shall be determined by the Criminal Justice Services Board as in subsection B, taking into consideration the clear and reasonable law-enforcement needs for the property which the agencies may have. In order to equitably distribute tangible personal property, the Criminal Justice Services Board may require the agency receiving the property to reimburse the Department in cash for the difference between the fair market value of the forfeited property and the agency's equitable share as determined by the Criminal Justice Services Board.

If a seizing agency has received property for its use pursuant to this section, when the agency disposes of the property (1) by sale, the proceeds shall be distributed as set forth in this section; or (2) by destruction pursuant to a court order, the agency shall do so in a manner consistent with this section.

D. All forfeited property, including its proceeds or cash equivalent, received by a participating state or local agency pursuant to this section shall be used to promote law enforcement but shall not be used to supplant existing programs or funds. The Board shall promulgate regulations establishing an audit procedure to ensure compliance with this section.

E. On or after July 1, 2012, but before July 1, 2014, local seizing agencies may contribute cash funds and proceeds from forfeited property to the Virginia Public Safety Foundation to support the construction of the Commonwealth Public Safety Memorial. Any funds contributed by seizing agencies shall be contributed only after an internal analysis to determine that such contributions will not negatively impact law-enforcement training or operations.

F. The Department shall report annually on or before December 31 to the Governor and the General Assembly the amount of all cash, negotiable instruments, and proceeds from sales conducted pursuant to § 19.2-386.7 or 19.2-386.12 that were forfeited to the Commonwealth, including the amount of all forfeitures distributed to the Literary Fund. Such report shall also detail the amount distributed by the Department to each federal, state, or local agency or office pursuant to this section, and the amount each state or local agency or office received from federal asset forfeiture proceedings. Any state or local agency that receives a forfeited asset or an equitable share of the net proceeds of a forfeited asset from the Department or from a federal asset forfeiture proceeding shall inform the Department, in a manner prescribed by the Department, of (i) the offense on which the forfeiture is based listed in the information filed pursuant to § 19.2-386.1, (ii) any criminal charge brought against the owner of the forfeited asset, and (iii) if a criminal charge was brought against the owner of the forfeited asset, the status of the charge, including whether the charge is pending or resulted in a conviction. The Department shall include such information in the annual report. The Department shall ensure that such report is available to the public.

1991, c. 560; 2012, cc. 126, 283, 373, 756; 2016, cc. 203, 423; 2018, c. 666.