What Is Asset Forfeiture?

By Jonathan Blecher on December 20, 2017

In some cases, when a person engages in illegal activity, a law enforcement agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will seize the individual’s assets. This process is referred to as “asset forfeiture.” According to the FBI, “Asset forfeiture is a powerful tool used by law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, against criminals and criminal organizations to deprive them of their ill-gotten gains through the seizure of these assets.”

Historically, asset forfeiture was used by governments to combat piracy; they would seize vessels and the contraband contained on them. Today, the practice is used to disrupt and deter criminals who prey on vulnerable people for the purpose of financial gain. Usually, the targets of asset forfeiture include white collar criminals, drug dealers, terrorists, and organized criminals.

What is the purpose of asset forfeiture?

  • It punishes criminals for engaging in illegal activities.
  • It deters people from engaging in criminal behavior.
  • It disrupts criminal organizations, such as gangs, drug trafficking rings and organized criminals.
  • It allows assets to be returned to innocent victims.
  • By deterring criminal behavior, it protects communities.

Criminal Forfeiture vs. Civil Forfeiture

In the United States, there are three types of forfeiture: 1) criminal forfeiture, 2) civil judicial forfeiture, and 3) administrative forfeiture. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to take a closer look at criminal and civil asset forfeiture.

Criminal forfeitures are related to criminal prosecutions. In these cases, the government indicts the defendant, but it also indicts the property that was used to facilitate a crime or that was obtained through the proceeds of a crime.

Civil judicial forfeitures do not require that the wrongdoer is convicted of a crime. However, civil judicial forfeitures remain a “legal tool” that allows law enforcement to seize any property that was someone involved in criminal activity.

In both criminal and civil judicial forfeitures, the individual has the right to contest the seizure if they please, but they must go to trial to do this.

What types of property can be seized?

Just about anything of value can be seized; however, the below types of property are commonly seized by law enforcement and the FBI:

  • Jewelry
  • Cash in bank accounts
  • Real estate
  • Homes
  • Automobiles
  • Boats
  • Artwork
  • Collectibles

Are facing criminal charges and in fear that your assets will be seized by a government agency? To learn more about criminal and civil asset forfeiture, contact my Miami criminal defense firm for a free case evaluation. I handle both state and federal cases.

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