According to Merriam-Webster, forfeiture is “the loss of property or money because of a breach of a legal obligation.” In other words, it represents the loss of something as a penalty for wrongdoing.
The U.S. Department of Justice explains that, at the federal level, forfeiture serves the following three purposes:
- Deprives criminals of their crime proceeds
- Breaks the financial backbone of such groups as drug cartels and organized crime syndicates
- Recovers property that is then used to compensate crime victims and deter crime
To this end, federal law provides for the following three types of forfeiture:
As its name implies, criminal forfeiture can be part of your punishment if a federal judge and jury convict you of a federal crime. In most instances, criminal forfeiture applies only to money or property directly related to the crime for which you stand convicted.
Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires the government to bring charges against you personally in a criminal court, civil forfeiture is an in rem action wherein the government, acting as plaintiff, brings a civil case against the property itself as the defendant. You and any others owning an interest in the property become claimants in such an action. While no criminal convictions result from a civil forfeiture case, the government must nevertheless prove that the property at issue was somehow connected to criminal activity.
Administrative forfeiture is likewise an in rem civil action, but here the government goes before the administrative agency that seized the assets, requesting that they become forfeited to the United States. Administrative forfeiture applies only in situations where neither you nor anyone else contests the seizure.