Criminal forfeiture is an “in personam” – against the person – action, whereas civil judicial forfeiture is an “in reim” – against the property – action. The key distinction is that in a criminal case, the burden is on the government to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, the burden of proof in a civil action is much lower; it’s not necessary to prove an individual’s guilt, just to prove a sufficient connection between the property and some degree of criminal activity. In a civil judicial forfeiture, the defendant is the property itself, and no criminal indictment of the owner is required.
In cases where forfeiture is connected to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), or obscenity and money laundering statutes, an additional hearing will be conducted. This hearing invites third parties to present their case for an interest in the property.
The government may also pursue criminal forfeiture proceedings to seize and liquidate assets that are untainted by any connection to a criminal activity. This takes place when the government seeks financial judgment against a defendant for an amount equal to the proceeds of the criminal activity.
In criminal forfeiture cases, the trial is separated into two phases: guilt and forfeiture. In trial, the both phases are usually decided by the same jury, but in separate hearings. One trial focuses on criminal guilt and the second hearing address the forfeiture. Alternatively, the judge may decide on the forfeiture charges in a separate trial without a jury.
Regardless the nature of a forfeiture case, it’s imperative to have proper legal representation to ensure you achieve the best possible outcome. Breen & Pugh Law has a proven track record of positive outcomes for clients facing asset forfeiture, both criminal and civil.