Many types of crimes involve property in some form or fashion. For example,
a bank robber can use his car as a getaway car in the robbery. A drug
dealer can use his personal home to sell large amounts of illegal drugs
and run a human trafficking operation. In each of these examples, the
criminals used their property to facilitate the commission of a crime.
Under federal asset forfeiture laws, the property mentioned above can
be taken by the U.S. government because it was used to commit a federal crime.
Forfeiture refers to the U.S. government taking someone’s property
because it was involved in a
federal crime, but the federal forfeiture laws are more expansive than that. Under the
federal forfeiture laws, the government can also legally seize property
that was “obtained through the illegal proceeds of a federal crime,”
according to the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Suppose “John” was
trafficking in drugs from Mexico. With his proceeds from the drug trafficking scheme,
John bought a two-million-dollar waterfront home in St. Petersburg. When
the FBI finally caught up with John and he was indicted on federal drug
trafficking charges, John’s luxury waterfront property was seized
by the FBI.
According to the FBI, the agency began using asset forfeiture as a serious
tool after Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control of 1984. When
this was passed, the Department of Justice established the Asset Forfeiture
Fund, which was designed to manage all of the assets and proceeds obtained
through federal forfeitures.
Which Assets Are Subject to Forfeiture?
If it has any type of value, it can be forfeited. This includes homes,
ATVs, land, automobiles, boats, cash, jewelry, businesses, artwork, antiques,
weapons, electronics, furniture, securities, bank accounts, lottery winnings,
and more. While not all federal crimes have forfeiture provisions, many
of them do. According to the FBI, “just about every law the FBI
is charged with enforcing has some forfeiture aspect – from organized
crime activities, financial frauds, drug trafficking, and cyber crimes
to public corruption, child pornography, human trafficking, and terrorism.”
Two Types of Forfeiture: Criminal & Civil
In the United States, there are two types of forfeiture: criminal and civil.
With criminal forfeiture, the assets are seized as part of a criminal
prosecution. For example, “John” the drug trafficker was subject
to a federal prosecution. When his waterfront property was seized along
with valuables inside the home and his five automobiles on the property,
it was all part of a “criminal forfeiture.”
In John’s case, his illegal assets were seized by the government
and after he was convicted in federal court, the forfeiture order was
carried out while he was being sentenced. His assets also could have been
frozen until his case was resolved in court.
In contrast, a civil forfeiture is conducted against the property of the
wrongdoer, but unlike a criminal forfeiture, it does not depend on a conviction
in a criminal proceeding. Instead, a civil forfeiture relies on the strong
evidence that is available to law enforcement. A civil forfeiture can
be used even if the owner has passed away, and it can be used to obtain
the assets of a fugitive who is in hiding or living abroad.
As far as civil forfeiture is concerned, there are two types: administrative
forfeiture and judicial forfeiture. Administrative forfeiture is reserved
for property that is worth less than $500,000, while judicial forfeiture
involves property that is worth more than $500,000. Sometimes, however,
the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will be running both a criminal
and a civil forfeiture case at the same time. There are several reasons
for this, one is so the FBI can forfeit the person’s assets civilly
before he or she flees the country or dies before the government can initiate
Facing federal charges in the Greater Tampa Area?
Contact Thomas & Paulk, P.A. to schedule a free consultation with an experienced member of
our legal team!