n Acta Juridica - The development of asset forfeiture law in the United States : transnational and organized crime

Volume 2003, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1346
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2088



Asset forfeiture came into prominence as a law enforcement tool in the United States during the 1990s. At the beginning of that decade, the Department of Justice - the principal federal law enforcement agency - was forfeiting approximately $200 million per year in criminal assets, mostly from drug cases. By the end of the decade, it was forfeiting over $600 million per year in assets involved in an enormous variety of serious crimes.

In short, in the last decade, asset forfeiture became institutionalized as an essential weapon in the arsenal that the federal law enforcement agencies in the United States could bring to bear on the perpetrators of crime. But the statutes, procedures and policies that govern the application of the forfeiture laws did not spring full-grown from a single Act of Congress. Nor were the various statutes that were enacted piecemeal over many years accepted by the courts without scepticism or controversy. To the contrary, laws and concepts that were slowly developed throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were greatly expanded in the last 20 years, applied in new contexts, and subjected to close scrutiny by a sceptical judiciary. Only now, after more than a dozen constitutional challenges in the Supreme Court of the United States and the enactment of comprehensive reform legislation, can it be said that most of the major issues have been settled. Many issues remain, but to a large extent when the practitioners of forfeiture law go to federal court today, they are litigating over the details.

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