What civil-asset forfeiture means

KERRI KALEY was a sales representative for a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. She and some of her colleagues sometimes received excess or outdated medical devices from their clients, which they then sold, splitting the proceeds among themselves. The government believed this amounted to theft, and in 2007 Ms Kaley, her husband and Jennifer Gruenstrass were indicted on charges of stealing medical equipment. They contended that their conduct was not criminal, because the material in question was unwanted. Still, they prepared for a long fight; to pay for their legal defence the Kaleys borrowed $500,000. That defence worked well for Ms Gruenstrass: a jury voted to acquit her on all charges in less than three hours after the prosecution could find not a single witness who claimed ownership of the material in question. Things went less smoothly for the Kaleys. After they were charged, prosecutors obtained an order freezing more than $2m of their assets, including the $500,000 they borrowed for their legal defence, claiming those assets constituted “proceeds” of the alleged crimes.

This is a procedure known as “civil-asset forfeiture”. Unlike criminal forfeiture, in which prosecutors seize the proceeds of criminal activity as punishment for a crime, civil-asset forfeiture does not require a conviction or even a criminal charge:

Read more by J. F. at Economist.com