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Asset Forfeiture Defense Manual

by Brenda Grantland, Judy Osburn and Susan Raffanti;

Liberty Press, San Francisco, CA, Nov. 2001; 500 pp. (soft-back)

Vol. 1: Substantive Law and Administrative Procedure;

Review by John E. Dannenberg

You may have thought your troubles were over when you were prosecuted for a state or federal crime, until your friendly U.S. Government - who in its infinite wisdom has discovered that crime does pay - now comes after your personal assets as a forfeiture for your criminal activities or those of a family member. That's the bad news. The good news is that there is now available an engaging, comprehensive self-help manual on how to defend yourself against such federal forfeiture.

Forfeiture defense attorney Brenda Grantland and victim/survivor Judy Osburn are key activists in F.E.A.R. (Forfeiture Endangers American Rights Foundation) and authors of this narrowly focused but spirited (dedicated to George Orwell!) treatise on how to get the government's grub hooks off of your property.

Because the federal laws are so complex by themselves, this planned two volume set cannot also cover state forfeiture defense, although undoubtedly some of the constitutional principles invoked would carryover. Despite these complexities, this scholarly text is written in an easy to follow conversational style, suitable for use either by attorneys or pro per litigators.

Federal asset forfeiture is grounded in a 1984 law which has been expanded each year since. The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA), 18 U.S.C. § 981, where the Manual begins by dissecting the statutory language, was the first effort at forfeiture reform. Next, the authors cover the principles of forfeiture, including its historical development from Biblical days, the distinctions between civil and criminal forfeitures and bedrock U.S. Supreme Court case law covering Eighth Amendment Excessive Fines Clause and Fifth Amendment Takings Clause attacks.

Chapter 2 examines 18 U.S.C. § 981 et seq. as to requisite elements of proof, as well as forfeitures under related statutes regarding drugs, continuing criminal enterprises, gambling, firearms violations, money laundering, mail and wire fraud, financial transaction fraud, bankruptcy fraud, smuggling, credit card fraud, computer fraud, loan/bank fraud, immigration fraud, and racketeering.

Chapter 3 explains the legal theory of forfeiture - parsing the elements of "contraband," "traceability" and "facilitation." It concludes with a note on fugitive disentitlement, nicely distinguishing such abandonment from Chapter 4's discussion of the "innocent owner" defense. Chapter 5 addresses standing and ownership defense issues, expressly covering corporate ownership, spousal ownership, heirs, minor children, guardian ownership, joint ownership and creditor status.

In Chapter 6, the text turns to trial issues: denial of speedy trial, jurisdiction, statutes of limitations, entrapment, vagueness, and Fifth and Eighth Amendment protections [noting that double jeopardy and Bill of Attainder defenses don't work]. Chapter 7 turns to Fourth Amendment search and seizure evidence suppression defense, while Chapter 8 goes further into procedural aspects regarding seizures.

Chapter 9 discusses the procedures you have to comply with when you get an administrative forfeiture notice; failure to comply with those procedures on time means you lose your right to any judicial remedy at all. Chapter 10 discusses cost bonds, summary forfeiture and time constraints, while Chapter 11 addresses petitions for remission and/or mitigation and other administrative remedies.

The Manual has a very instructive 11 page digest (Appendix 1) of key words in the CAFRA. This is a great aid that essentially cross-indexes CAPRA with relevant United States Codes. Finally, the Glossary is particularly useful to pro se litigants by defining terms unique to asset forfeiture defense law.

If Uncle Sam is after your assets after alleging criminal activity, your best defense might well be found in the Asset Forfeiture Defense Manual, Vol. 1 available for $131.00 from F.E.A.R., 265 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA 94941, (415) 389-8551.

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