16. What rules is the State required to follow in a forfeiture case?

Filing Deadlines:  The State must file its forfeiture case within 30 days of taking your property (unless the property is taken by Federal agents, in which case the 30-day clock does not start running until the property is transferred to State law enforcement). If the State does not file within this time period, you are entitled to the return of your property.

Notice:  Under State law, Notice of a forfeiture lawsuit must be given to (1) the owner of the property and (2) any “interest holder” in the property (for example, a bank with a mortgage on your property). There are special Notice rules for cars and some other types of property. If the State does not give you Notice and that failure ends in your property being forfeited, you can:

  • file a Motion for a New Trial (a.k.a., ask your trial judge for a new trial); or
  • file what is called a “Bill of Review” suit. A "Bill of Review" suit is not an appeal of a forfeiture case, but a separate attack on the result of the forfeiture case. If successful, it gets rid of the judgment in the forfeiture case and allows a new trial for the forfeiture case. A "Bill of Review" suit is only allowed if you have a defense to the forfeiture action that you were not allowed or able to use because of (1) the State's fraud, accident, or wrongful act or (2) some other official mistake. The fact that you were not allowed or able to use a defense cannot be due to your fault or negligence in any way.

In our example, Steve should get his property back if the York County District Attorney does not file a Petition or "Notice of Seizure and Intended Forfeiture" by July 15, which is 30 days from June 15, when the $900 was seized.