Asset forfeiture is the government’s confiscation of funds or property used to fund criminal activity, mostly illegal drug trafficking. There are two types of forfeiture cases: criminal and civil. Almost all forfeiture cases practiced today are civil. Most of these cases occur under federal law and no criminal charges or convictions are required in civil forfeiture proceedings. The federal government sues the property in question and the property owners are third parties.

These proceedings have more lenient burdens of proof than criminal prosecutions – property owners must prove that their property was not used in criminal activity by a preponderance of the evidence (a level of proof that persuades a judge or jury that, given the evidence, the plaintiff has more likely than not proved their property was used for criminal activity). The Department of Justice established the National Assets Seizure and Forfeiture Fund in 1985 and realized $27 million from drug-related forfeitures that year. Many states followed suit by establishing their own civil forfeiture programs.

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