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Press Release on Asset Forfeiture
Regarding: Austin v. U.S.
by U.S. Dept of Justice
Jun 28, 1993
New York Times
The Supreme Court held today in Austin v. United States that the
Eighth Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines, previously
understood as applying only in criminal forfeiture cases, also
applies in civil forfeiture cases.  The court remanded the case to
the Court of Appeals for a determination of whether the particular
forfeiture constituted an excessive fine.  In doing so, it provided
no test for the lower court to use in making such a determination.
The Department of Justice believes that the particular
forfeiture in question, the forfeiture of a mobile home and auto
body shop used for the unlawful distribution of cocaine, will not
be found to be excessive.  The department has exercised restraint
in enforcing civil forfeiture laws, and will continue to do so.  It
does not expect the Austin decision to have any significant effect
on the day-to-day operations of the forfeiture program.
The department is pleased with the holding of the Supreme Court
in Alexander v. United States, that the forfeiture of business
assets where the business has engaged in the distribution of
pornography, pursuant to the RICO forfeiture statute, is not
violative of the First Amendment.  The court remanded the case to
the Court of Appeals for a determination of whether there had been
a violation of the excessive fines clause, consistent with its
holding in Austin.  The department believes that the lower court
will find that the particular forfeiture did not constitute an
excessive fine under the totality of the circumstances involved in
the case, and does not anticipate any significant change in day to
day operations resulting from this decision either.