«The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property.» [source]

What I think this means: [...] clear and convicting evidence before seizing property.

What I read here: [...] clear and convincing evidence before returning already seized property.

Can you explain what's going on? Is this sentence in error and, if not, why?

  • It's a typo, as you thought. It should be something like "before forfeiture of the seized property" or "before enacting the forfeiture of the seized property" or "before the seized property is forfeit to the government" .. etc.
    – Fattie
    Jul 28, 2014 at 11:02
  • Would appreciate a link to a page which would explain the reason for downvoting. Jul 28, 2014 at 13:39
  • Sure, just look in a dictionary. It's exactly as you thought. It's extremely strange (it is not* legalese - it's just strange) to use it "backwards" like that in referring to the act. (Ask a solicitor if you like.) You can, strangely, use any noun referring to a process "backwards" like that (as in my "buys" example below).
    – Fattie
    Jul 28, 2014 at 14:23
  • Let me make an example. Say you were selling me an ice-cream. (You own the gelato shop, I am a customer.) I could say "here comes the selling". It's just using the adjective from a noun in the "wrong direction". (Sure, there are extremely obscure cases where you'd do that - say, a sales training course in the past tense of a video analysis .. or something.) Exactly as Erik says, **Here, forfeiture is a term used by the US Government..." but they didn't use "the forfeiture of" in the sentence you were asking about, someone made a typo and used "forfeit".
    – Fattie
    Jul 28, 2014 at 14:33
  • (Or - sure - it was like 'selling' in my gelato example. If you're comfortable with that ... the writer was using "selling" as in my "backwards example" ... that's the end of it.)
    – Fattie
    Jul 28, 2014 at 14:34

2 Answers 2


The statement by Rand Paul to which you linked makes reference to two terms which the reader could easily confuse with each other, namely seizure and forfeiture (or in full, asset forfeiture).

In this context, seizure means 'the physical removal of property from the possession of the owner, or the denial of access to (or use of) his property by the owner'.

Here, forfeiture is a term used by the US Government and its agencies to mean 'legal confiscation'; in other words, it goes a step beyond taking physical possession of the owner's property because it involves a forced transfer of legal ownership of the property without payment or compensation from the owner to a US government agency (the reason being that a law enforcement agency alleges that it is connected with the commission of a crime).

The sense of 'forfeit' being applied in Rand Paul's statement is thus a little different from the everyday sense that is most familiar to the average person.

In everyday usage, if you forfeit something you relinquish possession of it, usually as a penalty either in a children's game or because you have broken a particular rule.

In the sense that Rand Paul's statement uses the term, a government agency actively confiscates it (in other words, it is something that the government does with your property, not something that you do with it).

The distinction is a significant one when, as here, there is a large question mark hanging over the rightness of the confiscation because there was no preceding due process.

  • This is totally wrong. There's no special sense of "forfeit" other than what one sees in the dictionary. It's a typographical error.
    – Fattie
    Jul 28, 2014 at 11:03
  • Indeed Erik note that you said ... "Here, forfeiture is a term used by the US Government..." But the passage does not use forfeiture, it uses "forfeiting", which is a typo.
    – Fattie
    Jul 28, 2014 at 11:03
  • @JoeBlow - Your objection makes no sense. The text from which the OP quoted includes both words in this para: "The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property. State law enforcement agencies will have to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property. Finally, the legislation would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General's Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury's General Fund."
    – Erik Kowal
    Jul 28, 2014 at 11:14
  • Thanks for including more text from the link. They use it completely incorrectly throughout. Simply glance in a dictionary for the meaning.
    – Fattie
    Jul 28, 2014 at 11:17
  • 1
    @JoeBlow - True, not all dictionaries include that meaning, but some do, e.g. the American Heritage Dictionary: to subject to seizure as a forfeit and the online Merriam-Webster: to subject to confiscation as a forfeit. I also think that in practice, an entity with as much influence as the US Government has the clout needed to create new meanings, especially when they are explicitly enshrined in legislation.
    – Erik Kowal
    Jul 28, 2014 at 11:26

To my understanding, the government, using as its justification the supposed commission of a crime, seizes property; the former owner of the seized property is said to forfeit it to the government.

I believe that in the quoted sentence, the word forfeiting is used wrongly.

  • This is 100% correct. It's just a typo. Instead of "forfeiting", which is nonsensical, it should be "forfeiture of".
    – Fattie
    Jul 28, 2014 at 11:04
  • Mr @Joe Blow \\ Actually, what I meant was that property seized by government from its owner is said to be forfeited by the owner to the government. The sentence that I referred to seemed to imply that "to forfeit" was an action of the government when its real meaning is for the owner to lose the right to continue to own the subject property. Jul 28, 2014 at 22:24

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