Has your car, cash or home been seized by the government after an investigation? If it has, then you know how unfair this can be. On learning that the government — police and district attorney (DA) — wants to take and keep your private property, you ask, “What gives them the right to do that?”
The “right to do that” goes back in time to English law, when all property belonged to the king. When the king decided to take land or jewels from someone he had given it to, that was called “forfeiting the estate.” Along these lines, just before the American Revolution, the British would seize and forfeit the colonists’ property if they had not paid taxes on it. For instance, John Hancock had his ship (full of Madeira wine) taken from him by British taxation authorities. A young attorney named John Adams stood up for, and spoke on behalf of, Hancock. … Many colonists got to read Adams’ courtroom arguments and this helped fuel the uprising against the British. In short, seizures and forfeitures were unpopular then, and they are still unpopular now.
Today, the government (state and federal) uses forfeiture laws in some of the same ways that the British did in the eighteenth century: to punish people for unpopular acts and opinions. For example, the U.S. government will take property that it claims was used in, or connected to, the commission of a crime, or that was paid for by the “proceeds” of criminal activity. This “taking” is done in a civil court. In such cases, people do not have the same Constitutional rights that they do in a criminal case (the right to silence, the right to counsel and the right to present evidence). The amount of money that the government generates by the “taking” is astounding. This number is well in excess of 400 million dollars annually.
Shaun Kaufman provides forfeiture defense services in Colorado. Here is his website. If you are an attorney providing forfeiture defense services, you can join our forfeiture attorney directory, which we make available to forfeiture victims free of charge.