Confiscation Law & Legal Definition


Confiscation is the taking of private property for public use without compensation. It may occur legally when the government seizes property used in illegal practices, such as a boat used to smuggle illegal drugs. Confiscation may also be referred to as forfeiture. Congress has enacted over 200 civil forfeiture statutes authorizing forfeiture for items ranging from contaminated food to the pelts of endangered species. Confiscation may occur without an arrest of a person because it is seen as an arrest of property, rather than a person, and the necessity of finding a party guilty is not required in all cases. In many cases, the the guilt or innocence of the property owner is irrelevant and the government need not prove anything “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In order to seize property, there must be either a warrant or a showing of probable cause. The mere showing of probable cause to support the forfeiture of an individuals property has been a controversial issue. Court opinion varies, but probable cause most often means that the government need only demonstrate reasonable grounds for the belief that the property is properly subject to forfeiture, which can be supported by something less than prima facie proof, but more than mere suspicion.

The following is an excerpt of a state statute relating to confiscation of quarantined plants:

"...Any plant, plant product, or other thing included under a quarantine which is moved, sold, or otherwise disposed of within the state in violation of this section, and any plant propagated from such plant, plant product, or other thing, shall be declared contraband and confiscated and destroyed by the commissioner without compensation to anyone....".