After 500 years, civil asset forfeiture reform long overdue

Britannia begin to rule the waves in the mid-1600s. By the 1700s, the sun never set on the British Empire; it stretched across the globe. During these centuries, the British crown deployed civil forfeiture practices under the Navigation Acts, which mandated vessels importing or exporting products from British ports fly the British flag. Ships that did not could be seized even if the ship’s owner was innocent of any wrongdoing.

Additionally, there were situations where the owner would have been on the other side of the ocean, thereby making their apprehension much more difficult than seizing the ship itself. Essentially, if the Navigation Acts were violated, the cargo — or perhaps the entire ship — could be seized and forfeited in favor of the British crown even if the property owner was innocent.

The United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of forfeiture laws in the early 1800s. For example, former Justice Joseph Story explained in the 1844 case United States v.The Brig Malek Adel the “vessel which commits the aggression is treated as the offender, as the guilty instrument or thing to which the forfeiture attachés.” In effect, the property would be deemed “guilty.”

Read more at The Hill.

Lampard, Ronald. (2017, April 20) After 500 years, civil asset forfeiture reform long overdue. Retrieved