This time, Wikipedia got it right: Civil forfeiture, or asset forfeiture, “is a form of confiscation of assets by the state, pursuant to law. It typically applies to the alleged proceeds or instrumentalities of crime. Some jurisdictions specifically use the term ‘confiscation’ instead of ‘forfeiture'”. Wiki goes on, accurately, to explain how it works:

The government sues the item of property, not the person; the owner is effectively a third-party claimant. Once the government establishes probable cause that the property is subject to forfeiture, the owner must prove on a “preponderance of the evidence” that it is not. The owner need not be judged guilty of any crime. (my emphases added)

I wrote about this case back in May:

A battle over civil asset forfeitureis raging in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, where a motel is being seized because, according to the local police and the DEA, it “facilitated” some drug related activity. The owners, Russ and Pat Caswell, are mystified and frightened. The motel has been in the family for two generations and has rented out its rooms more than 125,000 times since 1994, with about 30 drug-related arrests taking place there over that 18-year period. If the taking is successful, it will essentially render the Caswells penniless as they were depending upon the property for their retirement.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) offered to help them, and the case against the Caswells has just been thrown out.  The judge said that not only did the government fail to prove that the motel was “subject to forfeiture” but the owners proved that they were “innocent owners.”  The judge noted that it was

significant that neither Mr. Caswell, nor anyone in his family, nor anyone over whose behavior he had any control, was involved in any of the drug-related incidents…

In the instant case, punishing Mr. Caswell by forfeiting the Motel obviously would not punish those engaged in the criminal conduct…

But it most certainly would have encouraged the feds to move ahead with other civil forfeiture cases had the judge ruled differently. Besides, it’s very profitable for the agencies involved.

This ruling should, for a while at least, dampen their enthusiasms.



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