Where Does Seized Money and Property Ordered Forfeited by the Courts Go?

In many types of cases (especially criminal matters), the state and federal governments seize property or money and seek to have it ordered to be “forfeited” by courts. An order of forfeiture essentially permanently deprives the person who had the property or money from ever having it again. But what happens after a “forfeiture” order is given by the courts? The answer is that it depends on the law that authorized the forfeiture in the first place … and laws can differ greatly from state to state and also from government agency to agency.

We would like to hope that, for example, property or money forfeited from a criminal gang or enterprise would be used to help the victims of the criminals. In some instances that does occur, but on the other hand it often turns out that the forfeited funds are used to supplement the operating budgets of law enforcement or other agencies, not for health, rehabilitation or other such truly benevolent purposes. Of course, the use of forfeited cash or property by the government can help bolster its efforts to detect and bring more criminals to justice. But with that there is the danger that seeking more forfeiture opportunities becomes just as important as bringing crime to an end. This may be especially true in tough economic times such as those we are presently experiencing.

There is no “easy answer” to how forfeiture proceeds should be handled, but whenever possible it would seem best to apportion a healthy percentage of such money or property to or for the benefit of victims or for education, rehabilitation and many other worthy ways.

As a final thought, we offer the following message given Justice Department personnel in 1990 (produced by specific request in a forfeiture case – complete memo available – visit us at www.lawyers-online.us):

     “On July 18, 1990, William P. Barr, Deputy Attorney General, advised all United States Attorneys and other Department of Justice officials that the President’s budget for FY 1990 projects forfeiture deposits of $470 million. Through the first nine months of the year, deposits total $314 million. We must significantly increase production to reach our budget target…..

     “….Failure to achieve the $470 million projection would expose the Department’s forfeiture program to criticism and undermine confidence in our budget projections. Every effort must be made to increase forfeiture income during the remaining three months of FY 1990.”

     We have not studied or obtained current figures, but get the sense that there is a fairly substantial amount of money being derived (at combined state and federal levels) from forfeiture proceedings. Hopefully, it will increasingly benefit victims and other programs aimed at curing the roots of the problems that generate the forfeited funds or property in the first place. As citizens we should not overlook how these funds are allocated.

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