In Atlanta I have been asked to give a speech to some lawyers who handle federal criminal cases. The organizers of the seminar asked that I talk about criminal forfeitures. A lot of lawyers are not well acquainted with this ancient form of punishment that is becoming more and more common in modern federal criminal law. Here is the paper that is the basis for my speech. Criminal Forfeiture
Forfeiture is a very old concept we inherited (like so many legal principles) from ancient English law. The basic idea is that if property is used in or obtained from criminal conduct, the King could take the property. They created a legal fiction by which title to the property actually turned over to the King at the point when the crime happened.
Fast forward to our incredibly bad War on Drugs beginning back in the 1970’s. Congress began re-tooling the ancient forfeiture concepts to let federal prosecutors go after dope dealers’ assets. That is all fine and good, in theory. However, many readers know that law enforcement and government officials began taking these rules to the extreme, taking property barely associated with a crime or taking money far greater than what was involved in any crime. The United States Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case out of Indiana exemplifying this issue. Justin Timbs carried some drugs in his Range Rover and got caught. The maximum fine for the crime was $5,000, but the state prosecutors seized and forfeited the $42,000 vehicle. Oh yeah, Mr. Timbs proved that he bought the Range Rover with the money he got from his Dad’s life insurance policy. Here is the usual excellent analysis from Scotusblog.com describing the case and the issues involved. Continue reading