Civil Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture - Podcast

Criminal Law & Procedure and Litigation Practice Groups Podcast
John G. Malcolm, John W. Vardaman February 23, 2015

Since the 1980s, the Department of Justice has utilized civil asset forfeiture as an effective tool to seize and forfeit billions of dollars-worth of assets allegedly connected to criminal activity as either an instrumentality or fruit of the crime. Since the inception of the asset forfeiture program, the Justice Department has shared much of these funds with state and local law enforcement authorities under its equitable sharing program, and many states have their own civil forfeiture laws and procedures. Critics of the program believe that civil asset forfeiture is fundamentally unfair, claiming, among other things, that it has the potential to warp law enforcement priorities, that the existing procedures are stacked against innocent property owners, and that it is simply wrong to seize someone’s property when that person has not been charged with, much less convicted of, a crime. Several proposals have been introduced in Congress to reform the civil asset forfeiture program, the Justice Department has announced that it is conducting an internal review of this program, and a number of states have recently undertaken a review of their own civil asset forfeiture laws.

  • John G. Malcolm, Director and Ed Gilbertson and Sherry Lindberg Gilbertson Senior Legal Fellow, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation
  • John W. Vardaman, III, Assistant Deputy Chief for Policy, Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, United States Department of Justice

Civil Asset Forfeiture - Podcast

Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Podcast
Andrew R. Kloster, Darpana Sheth, Dean A. Reuter November 22, 2013

Police Money

Everyone knows that the proceeds and instrumentalities of a crime are confiscable by the state. What they don’t know is that the laws that authorize this type of “civil forfeiture” are subject to abuse. Some allege that state and federal law enforcement authorities use civil forfeiture as a revenue-generation tool, creating perverse incentives. This system sometimes falls on innocent owners, many of whom don’t have the legal skills or money to fight back. Our experts will discuss whether this area of our legal system is in need of reform.


  • Mr. Andrew R. Kloster, Legal Fellow, Edwin Meese III Legal Center, The Heritage Foundation
  • Ms. Darpana Sheth, Attorney, Institute for Justice
  • Moderator: Dean A. Reuter, Vice President and Director of Practice Groups, The Federalist Society

[Listen now!]

Forfeiture Reform

Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Newsletter - Volume 1, Issue 3, Fall 1997
Stefan D. Cassella May 21, 2009
The Justice Department has drafted and sent to Congress a set of legislative proposals to revise and reform the civil and criminal forfeiture laws. The bill, H.R. 1745, which was introduced by Rep. Charles Schumer on May 22, 1997, would create a uniform innocent owner defense and otherwise change civil forfeiture procedures to enhance the procedural due process rights of property owners. At the same time, it would expand the government's substantive forfeiture powers, by making the proceeds of virtually all federal crimes subject to forfeiture; and it would give the government new procedural tools, such as the ability to use criminal forfeiture in all cases where civil forfeiture is already authorized.

Forfeiture is Reasonable, and It Works

Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Newsletter - Volume 1, Issue 2, Spring 1997
Stefan D. Cassella May 21, 2009
Asset forfeiture has become one of the most powerful and important tools that federal law enforcement can employ against all manner of criminals and criminal organizations -- from drug dealers to terrorists to white collar criminals who prey on the vulnerable for financial gain. Derived from the ancient practice of forfeiting vessels and contraband in Customs and Admiralty cases, forfeiture statutes are now found throughout the federal criminal code.

Forfeiting Reason

Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Newsletter - Volume 1, Issue 2, Spring 1997
Roger Pilon May 21, 2009
If ever one wanted a glimpse of judicial reasoning gone awry, one could hardly do better than turn to the three forfeiture cases decided by the United States Supreme Court late in the 1995 Term. Two terms ago, when the Court issued four other forfeiture rulings, it looked like this bizarre area of law might soon be rethought from the ground up. For the moment, however, those hopes have been dashed by no less than the chief justice himself, the author of the latest opinions.