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What is asset forfeiture?

For New Yorkers who don’t believe in the adage “crime doesn’t pay,” some crimes might seem worth the risk of getting caught. Law enforcement agencies know this. To lessen the appeal of lucrative crime ventures, they use the rules of asset forfeiture.

According to the FBI, asset forfeiture helps deter crime, disrupt crime organizations, punish criminals and return assets to victims. The agency has seized and returned over $5 billion to victims of both civil and criminal cases through this victim restitution program. Federal law recognizes three types of forfeiture: criminal, civil judicial and administrative.

Criminal forfeiture mandates that the government indict the property used or received in crime along with the defendant. The defendant can contest the seizure during the trial, which is an action “in personam,” or against the person.

In a civil judicial forfeiture, the defendant and property are separate. Law enforcement can seize property used in a crime in this type of forfeiture, called an “in rem,” or against the property, action. The defendant can contest the seizure in this case as well.

An administrative forfeiture involves seizure of property, which many times, is not claimed, let alone contested. Property seized in this type of forfeiture includes items prohibited from import, such as drugs or exotic animals, monetary instruments and additional capital worth less than $500,000. It also includes vehicles or boats used to import or transport controlled substances, as well as property used to store them. For houses and additional, real property, a criminal or civil judicial forfeiture is required. If someone contests property seized under administrative forfeiture, the government must then use one of the other forms of seizure to gain the title.

The information in this article is of a general nature and is not intended as legal advice.

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