Seizure Law and Legal Definition

Seizure is the act of law enforcement officials taking property, including cash, real estate, vehicles, etc., that has been used in connection with or acquired by illegal activities. Property may also be seized to satisfy an unpaid judgment, as long as proper notice of the amount due has been served. A court or civil authority decides what is to be done with the property, such as selling it at a sheriff's sale. In the event of a "not guilty" verdict, assets are returned to the owner.

There are constitutional limitations on seizure. Due process requirements, such as notice of seizure for failure to pay an unsatisfied judgment, must first be served. In order to admit seized evidence in court to prove a crime, a search warrant or "probable cause" to believe a crime has been committed and without time to get a search warrant must exist. Some states have statutes allowing for seizure of vehicles in certain DUI offenses.

The following is an example of a state law dealing with proceeds from seized property:

"Section 24-1-16. Disposition of proceeds from criminal or civil forfeiture.

(1) When any property is civilly or criminally forfeited under this chapter by a finding of the court that no person is entitled to recover the property, the property shall be sold by the state treasurer, or destroyed if unfit for sale, and all revenue or proceeds therefrom shall be deposited in the Uniform School Fund after deducting the costs and expenses of:

  1. maintaining and storing the forfeited property;
  2. administering the forfeiture proceeding;
  3. appointed counsel under Section 24-1-9; and
  4. payment of money to compensate victims of conduct giving rise to or related to the forfeiture, or of conduct which is part of the same scheme that led to the forfeiture under this chapter.

(2) No property either seized or forfeited, whether civilly or criminally, nor any revenues or proceeds therefrom shall be paid to, appropriated for, or used for the benefit, directly or indirectly, of law enforcement officers, law enforcement agencies or agencies performing law enforcement functions.

(3) No property either seized or forfeited, whether civilly or criminally, nor any revenue or proceeds therefrom shall be, directly or indirectly, paid to, appropriated for, or used for the benefit of persons acting as:

  1. informants in any law enforcement function;
  2. witnesses in any administrative or judicial forum; or
  3. prosecutors in any state or federal actions.

(4) The state treasurer shall maintain an accounting of all properties which are either civilly or criminally forfeited and subsequently sold and all proceeds therefrom, and the state auditor shall perform an annual audit of such proceeds and communicate the results of the audit to the state treasurer and to the legislature. All accounting and audit records generated under this subparagraph shall be available and open to the public."