The federal government has moved to seize $1.6 million in assets from a doctor accused of operating a pill mill that operated in Tennessee and Kentucky. The curious thing about this is that the doctor has yet to be formally charged.

The move was likely not a surprise to the doctor — or his friends and business associates. Federal and state authorities had raided the doctor’s Tennessee clinic back in 2018. At that time, they seized a number of cars and cash from the doctor, people closely associated with him and some related businesses. The government has been holding on to the money and goods ever since then.

Civil asset forfeiture is one of the heavy-hitting reforms to come out of the 1980s “war on drugs.” It was designed to strip high-powered drug lords of their ill-gotten assets, making it harder for them to enjoy their wealth or participate in the drug trade.

Now, however, civil asset forfeiture is being used as a weapon against any defendant the government has in its sights — even if they don’t necessarily have enough evidence to charge the defendant with a crime. Civil asset forfeiture can be accomplished without a conviction — or even charges.

In fact, civil asset forfeiture sidesteps the entire issue by focusing the lawsuit against the property itself (rather than the property’s owner). Since the standard of evidence used in these cases is generally much lower than that used in a criminal trial, it’s a powerful governmental tool, indeed.

The government says that charges may still come against the doctor. However, his attorney said that it is “significant to note that [the doctor] has not been charged with any crime.” They are fighting the forfeiture.

Anyone who thinks they are suspected of drug crimes should be aware that federal and state authorities may try to use civil asset forfeiture laws to intimidate and frustrate them. Find out more about your legal rights and what defenses you may have.

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