California Attorney Battles Asset Forfeiture, Gets $150,000 Back to Client

Michael Cindrich is an attorney in California with Law Offices of Michael E. Cindrich APC in San Diego, CA. He recently achieved what I would call one of the largest victories in the world of weed arrests.

You see, this past spring in Oceanside, CA, Cindrich’s client Shaun Smith endured a home invasion, a SWAT-style raid where law enforcement took 3 ounces of cannabis concentrates, 55 pounds of cannabis and over $43,000 of his medical marijuana collective’s cash on-hand.

They also took what they felt were his assets, including a Toyota truck, guns, ammunition, and a motorcycle, then rode to the bank and confiscated the $110,000 from his bank account.

In June, Smith’s case moved through the San Diego North County courthouse very quickly. Within 10 minutes, a jury had reached a verdict of not guilty on the possession for sale and manufacturing charges the DA had filed. The court acknowledged that Smith was operating a legal collective and the group was saving for a storefront location.

Then in August, Cindrich was granted his Return of Property motion. The government returned approximately 55 pounds of medical cannabis, 3 ounces of concentrate, a Toyota truck, 3 handguns, 2 hunting rifles, an AR-15, 2 bullet proof vests, ammo, and other items to Smith. However, the government refused to return the $150K or the motorcycle that were seized at that time.

Cindrich persisted, saying that the cash and motorcycle were turned over to the federal government as forfeiture items through illegal adoption. Furthermore, Cindrich argued that the property was initially seized pursuant to a state warrant by officers who were “cross sworn” as both state and federal agents.

Since state agents seized the property pursuant to a state search warrant, the state statute of limitations of one year began on the date of seizure, not the date feds turned it back over to state. Since the one year statute of limitations had lapsed, Cindrich argued that the property return was required.

The District Attorney’s office said that the federal government seized the money initially, claiming the law enforcement authorizes involved in the raid were acting as federal agents.

Many people may not know this, but in California, any seizure done by the state – where the assets forfeited are handed over to the federal government – a process called equitable sharing provides that the DA’s office and other state law enforcement associated with the seizure receive 80% of the total value of the property forfeited.

A process called equitable sharing provides that the DA’s office and other state law enforcement associated with the seizure receive 80% of the total value of the property forfeited.

However, the judge ruled in favor of Smith, stating that the law enforcement authorities were cross sworn as CA and federal agents, the property was seized pursuant to a state search warrant, and the one year statute of limitations to file a forfeiture action in state court had lapsed. The raid and seizure were done under a state search warrant, by agents that were authorized to act as state law enforcement, so the DA couldn’t claim that the initial seizure was of a federal nature.

This brings up the subject of asset forfeiture and how prevalent it is in cannabis related crimes and arrests. “Historically, asset forfeiture has been a form of fed government robbery,” explained Cindrich, “Now, we are finally starting to see some changes in forfeiture laws. It’s good to see that people are starting to get their rights back.”

Thanks to Cindrich’s diligence, there was an Order to Show Cause (OSC) hearing earlier in October where the DA had to explain why they hadn’t yet returned the money and motorcycle. The judge again ruled in favor of Smith and he finally got his motorcycle back recently and should have the cash (all $150K) within the next few weeks, according to Cindrich.

This case is just one of many where the client knew his legal rights and pursued the case (and won) because of being educated about the law. This is absolutely essential as we all trudge forward in the area of cannabis where the laws, licensing, and compliance are all seemingly ever-changing.

I asked Cindrich what his biggest advice was for others out there who are navigating this space and he replied, “Before you get involved, do your research, know the laws correctly, and find an attorney that knows what they are doing…and never, ever give a statement to law enforcement without council.”

This was Cindrich’s 3rd cannabis related “not guilty” verdict in 4 months time, and I commend him on his efforts and the role he is playing in the bigger picture of ending cannabis prohibition and asset forfeiture reform.

Learn more about Michale Cindrich and his law offices here:

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