Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Civil Forfeiture

Oral arguments were heard before the Supreme Court in a case that may determine whether seizing property from criminally prosecuted drug dealers constitutes double jeopardy under the United States Constitution.

“Civil forfeiture has never been deemed so punitive … as to constitute a prosecution or punishment under the [Constitution’s] double jeopardy clause,” contended Justice Department lawyer Michael Dreeben on behalf of the Clinton administration. The attorney urged the Court to overturn two double-jeopardy decisions in which federal appeals courts in Michigan and California found civil forfeiture following a criminal prosecution to be unconstitutional.

“[This] is, in my mind, the single most important case involving the government’s forfeiture authority in the area of narcotics, and possibly other areas,” said Attorney Lawrence Robbins of Washington, D.C., one of two attorneys arguing against the government’s controversial, double-barreled anti-drug strategy.

“If this looks like a punishment … what then is the reason for not treating it like punishment,” asked Justice William H. Rehnquist during the procedures.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, no one may be “subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” The Supreme Court has interpreted this provision to prohibit multiple punishments for the same crime.

The Court is expected to rule on this issue sometime in June.

For more information forfeiture, please contact F.E.A.R. (Forfeiture Endangers American Rights) at (415) 388-8128. The organization can also be contacted on the Internet at