Thursday, May 30 2024

Civil Remedies Unit

The Civil Remedies Unit prosecutes civil forfeiture actions where the State has seized money, motor vehicles, real estate and personal property received as proceeds of, or utilized in connection with or in furtherance of, unlawful activity. The Unit is staffed by one full-time assistant prosecutor, one part-time assistant prosecutor, a prosecutor’s agent and a secretary. The Unit files complaints and motions, negotiates settlements and is responsible for trials, among other civil litigation procedures. The Unit also handles miscellaneous civil litigation involving the Prosecutor’s Office, advises and educates local police departments regarding forfeitures and is responsible for responding to Open Public Records Act requests received by the Office.

Forfeiture matters can arise from any indictable offense. Although forfeiture is not limited to narcotics cases, narcotics-related forfeitures are the most common. Forfeiture cases are generated by various law enforcement agencies including our Gang, Gun and Narcotics Task Force (GGNTF) and Office units such as Sexual Assault/Child Abuse, Financial Crimes and Major Crimes, and from municipal, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies. By participation with federal agencies, this Office has received shares of federally forfeited funds.

In 2018, state and federal civil forfeiture generated $395,199.00 in cash and property for law enforcement use. Of civil judgments and auction totals, $116,413.24 was distributed to participating state and local law enforcement agencies and some $238,678.00 was deposited in the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Law Enforcement Trust Account.

The Civil Remedies Unit also coordinates the use, sale and disposition of currency, vehicles and real and personal property obtained through forfeiture. After entry of judgment in a forfeiture case, the proceeds are distributed to participating state and local law enforcement agencies. Some expenses, such as the Ten Percent Fund, are deducted before contributive shares are calculated. The Ten Percent Fund was established to encourage local police departments to send officers to train with our GGNTF. As a result of their participation, local departments receive a pro rata share of ten percent of forfeited funds generated during a 12-month period. In 2018, $39,165.00 in Ten Percent Funds was distributed to participating departments.

Property that is forfeited includes cash, cars and miscellaneous items such as flat screen televisions. Vehicles and other useful miscellaneous personal property are sometimes turned over to local police departments for law enforcement use. After forfeiture or the term of usefulness, items and vehicles are sold at public auction. Property forfeited in 2018 included cash, cars and miscellaneous property.   Five vehicles were turned over to local police departments for law enforcement use.

The Civil Remedies Unit relies on the Screening, Juvenile and Evidence Management Units of the Office and networks with local police and New Jersey State Police regarding potential forfeiture cases. Potential cases are reviewed by the assistant prosecutor with occasional subsequent review by the Prosecutor. In addition to other duties, the Unit secretary creates new files, tracks service and discovery, updates the forfeiture computer program and records and files orders, lis pendens and judgments, among other documents. In 2018, 206 cases were reviewed for forfeiture and some 268 pending matters were resolved or partially resolved.

The Evidence Management Unit provides service to the Civil Remedies Unit by securing, documenting and tabulating seized funds and miscellaneous property until a final court order is entered and the funds and/or property are available for disbursement. The County Treasurer’s Office maintains the various forfeiture accounts. The Prosecutor’s office manager monitors the accounts and per the Attorney General’s forfeiture regulations files quarterly reports and reconciles local departments’ forfeiture reporting.

Funds generated through forfeiture are strictly limited to law enforcement use, and expenditures of local police departments are monitored by the Prosecutor’s Office. Forfeiture is used to finance expenditures to enhance law enforcement capabilities such as training for personnel, escalating the GGNTF campaign and increasing public education efforts to combat criminal activity and drug abuse.