Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Search and seizure
Search and seizure is a legal tool of US law whereby police who suspect that a crime has been committed may do a search of the property. The shortest punishment of the crime should be six months prison, but it may be done on mere suspicion of a crime. Confiscation is a seizure without compensation by a government authority, usually related to search and seizure. Asset forfeiture is also the forfeit of property to a government or other authority. There are over 200 offenses which have forfeiture clauses. Drugs and the Fourth Amendment go hand in hand.
Proponents of seizure suggest that it is a necessary tool to prevent drug trafficing or other crimes. The United States Marshal Services web site says, "There are three goals of the Asset Forfeiture Program: enforcing the law; improving law enforcement cooperation; and enhancing law enforcement through revenue. Asset forfeiture is a law enforcement success story" . Former president George H. W. Bush said, "[A]sset forfeiture laws allow [the government] to take the ill-gotten gains of drug kingpins and use them to put more cops on the streets."
Nevertheless, some see confiscation as a tool by which the government can steal their property just by alleging that it is involved in a crime. A number of legal scholors have argued that the current practice of forfeiture violates a number of Constitutional Amendments, including the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Amendments. Not all of these objections have been tested in court. Other objections involve the loss of civil liberties. 80 percent of the people whose property is seized by the federal government under drug laws are never formally charged with any crime.  
There are two types of forfeiture cases, criminal and civil. Almost all forfeiture cases practiced today are civil. In civil forfeiture cases, the US Government sues the item of property, not the person; the owner is effectively a third party claimant. Once the government establishes probable cause that the property is subject to forfeiture, the owner must prove a "preponderance of the evidence" that it is not. As such, the owner does not need to be judged guilty of any crime. In contrast, criminal forfeiture is usually carried out in a sentence following a conviction and is a punitive act against the offender. Since the government can choose which type of case, a civil case is almost always chosen. The costs of such cases is high for the owner, usually totaling around $10,000 and can take up to three years.
The United States Marshals Service is responsible for managing and disposing seized and forfeited properties. It currently manages around $1 billion worth of property. The goal of the program is to maximize the net return from seized property by selling at auctions and to the private sector and then using the property and proceeds for law enforcement purposes.
- http://www.law.cornell.edu/background/forfeiture/ - Introduction to forfeiture laws.
- http://www.fear.org/fedstat2a.html and http://www.fear.org/fedstat2b.html - List of offenses that trigger federal forfeiture.
- http://www.countyjudges.com/Demers/index.html - Judge David Demers - Search & Seizure Outline
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