Toward a Constitutional Kleptocracy: Civil Forfeiture in America

Leonard Levy, the legal historian who has written a number of highly regarded historical studies on various provisions of the United States Constitution, has added to his impressive oeuvre a new study of civil and criminal forfeiture. A License to Steal brings together a discussion of English legal history, a review of a number of Nineteenth Century and late Twentieth Century Supreme Court forfeiture decisions, accounts of actual applications of civil and criminal forfeiture, and a summary and critique of legislative proposals that have been made for reform of the civil forfeiture provisions of the federal drug statute. There is more space devoted in the book to civil than criminal forfeiture because, as Levy explains, criminal forfeiture was not widely used throughout most of the country’s history. Levy discusses criminal forfeiture primarily to contrast it with civil forfeiture, which affords virtually none of the procedural protections that are taken for granted in criminal prosecutions. What emerges clearly and forcefully in this book is that civil in rem forfeiture proceedings have been used – and increasingly are being used – as an expedient to circumvent the usual protections accorded to defendants in criminal proceedings, and to augment federal, state, and local treasuries. Drawn primarily from secondary sources, A License to Steal is footnoted throughout and contains an excellent bibliography.