FEDERAL CIVIL FORFEITURE LAWS
Federal agencies can try to seize property connected to illegal acts. They can try to do so in both civil and criminal proceedings. There are differences within each, so please click here to learn about federal criminal forfeiture laws.
Federal civil forfeiture actions can grow complex. However, matters get simplified if you understand a few critical rules. First, civil forfeiture actions proceed against the property in question. That is, the property is the defendant in the case and not the property owner. Second, a criminal charge does not have to get filed before these proceedings may commence.
Finally, to legally seize the property at issue, the government must prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the property was associated with criminal activity. “Preponderance of the evidence” is a specific legal test. It’s generally met if the government can show that the property was more likely than not associated with a crime. Note that if the government can meet this test, it is then up to the owner of the property to prove that the owner was not aware of the illegal use of the property..
The United States Supreme Court has identified three categories of property that are subject to forfeiture. These include:
- Contraband – property for which it’s a crime to own (e.g., illegal drugs)
- Proceeds from illegal activity – essentially property that results from, or can be traced back to illegal activity
- Tools used in commission of a crime – property used to commit a crime