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Federal Forfeiture Actions

There are three type of federal forfeiture actions in the United States: criminal, civil judicial and administrative. Each type allows for the various agencies of the federal government to seize assets belonging to people and entities within its borders. After assets are seized, they are often auctioned off, donated or refurbished for re-use.

In order for an asset to be seized it must be one of the following listed below.


This is anything that is not possessed legally at the time it is discovered by authorities. This can include anything from narcotics to a shipment of goods that were stolen in their country of origin.

*Fruit of Illegal Activities

Any proceeds of crime are subject to seizure, such as automobiles, video games, televisions, stocks, bonds, money or computers.

*Tools Used to Commit Crimes

Any item that was helpful in furthering the crime can be taken by the government. A drug dealer who used commercial trucks and rigs to ship his product will most likely lose his vehicles if apprehended.

Criminal Forfeiture

Federal law allows the government to file for asset forfeiture at the same time it indicts a defendant. The property which is to be seized must be connected to the crime in some way as either an instrument or proceed of the illegal activity. For example, marijuana growers who use their land to plant illegal crops can lose their property to forfeiture actions. They can also lose the vehicles they use as well as harvesting or processing equipment.

Civil Judicial

Federal forfeiture actions in this context are solely against the property. There is no action being taken against any person or entity at the time of this action. Typically, the government is seeking to forfeit nearly all of the defendant’s assets of any value, such as the house, car and cash. In some instances, the government may choose to indict the property owner during or after the forfeiture hearing, making this an extremely high stakes fight.


The Tariff Act of 1930 permits agencies to engage in federal forfeiture actions without a judicial hearing. Primarily, these are cases dealing with imported contraband (cigars, drugs, animals), instruments used to contain, store and import contraband, currencies and other items. The agency carrying out the action must follow strict public and personal notification requirements before the seizure can occur.