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Why is asset forfeiture deemed a violation of due process rights?

Because it is logical that many of our readers in North Carolina and elsewhere who regularly visit our criminal law blog have an interest in criminal jurisprudence, it also stands to reason that many of them know something about fundamental criminal law principles.

Indeed, it is likely that some of our readers know a great deal about criminal law, commanding strong knowledge of subject matter that we routinely address in our posts. Over the past year, we have sought to engage readers with a variety of topical information, ranging from constitutional considerations surrounding privacy rights and search and seizure protections to issues concerning our overcrowded prisons and sentencing reforms.

Today we look at so-called “federal asset forfeiture,” which is a subject that might be a bit foreign and immediately disconcerting to even some of our readers who pay closest attention to criminal law.

Asset forfeiture strikes many people as an anomaly in law, being a process pursuant to which state and federal law enforcers have long been able to simply seize the assets of a person and sell them, all without charging that individual with a crime.

The rationale underlying federal forfeiture law has been that some assets have derived from clear criminal activity -- for example, drug sales or money laundering -- and should be able to be seized in order that they are not used in the further commission of criminal activity.

Although many critics of forfeiture don’t find that objectionable, they have strongly criticized the practice of seizure and sale (and authorities’ retention of the profits) without the need to prove criminal activity.

Much changed regarding forfeiture law just last Friday, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that federal law can no longer be cited by state officials seizing property.

Holder’s statements were lauded by civil liberties groups, with one ACLU attorney calling the change “a significant advancement to reform a practice that is a clear violation of due process.”

If further material news emerges regarding this topic, we shall be sure to pass it along to readers.

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