Propublica reports that seizures of crime-related property have evolved into a booming business for police agencies across the country, from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to small-town sheriff's offices. It estimates that billions of dollars in cash, cars, real estate and other assets are being confiscated nationwide every year via civil forfeitures.
The idea behind forfeiture is simple enough: drug kingpins, embezzlers, racketeers and other offenders should not be able to keep the financial fruits of illegal acts. Prosecutors often ask a judge to seize the money, vehicles or real estate of a person convicted of a crime. But authorities can also use civil law to seize assets before the criminal case is adjudicated or, as in one Philadelphia example cited in the story, even when no charges are brought against the owner.