Asset Forfeiture in Criminal and Civil Matters

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A complex web of federal forfeiture laws allow the government to seize property from people convicted of crimes, as well as from those never even charged. Federal forfeiture laws have expanded since the 1990s and the government continues to flex its muscles, sparking recent media attention as in The Wall Street Journal.

The dollar value of assets seized by the federal government has grown exponentially, more than doubling in five years to top $2.5 billion in 2010. While some proceeds are returned to crime victims, state and local law enforcement agencies that assist with federal seizures may keep up to 80 percent of the fruits of forfeiture efforts. Overall, the federal government paid out more than $500 million last year to local agencies.

Arizona received more than $6 million in fiscal year 2008 alone, according to a 2010 report by The Institute for Justice.

In a criminal forfeiture proceeding, the property owner is typically convicted of a crime and assets are forfeited in connection with the conviction.

Civil forfeiture, however, holds the asset itself as the “defendant,” meaning the government must prove that the property was connected to illegal activity.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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