Press Release on Asset Forfeiture
Regarding: Austin v. U.S.
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.