Police auctions and seizures

Written by eric novinson
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Police auctions and seizures
The police may seize items and auction them, or they may keep the items for police use. (miami police boat image by Wimbledon from Fotolia.com)

The police are authorised to auction seized property. Police auctions include property that the owner has abandoned, as well as property that the police seize from criminal suspects. The police may hire contractors to perform the auction of seized property or have a law enforcement agent hold the auction. According to the U.S. Marshals Service, many types of property, from precious gems to cars and aeroplanes, are sold at police auctions.

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Criminal Forfeiture

Criminal forfeiture applies when the owner of the assets is convicted of a crime. Criminal forfeiture applies to items that are used in criminal enterprises, such as drug dealing, racketeering, money laundering and obscenity. The major statute that applies to criminal forfeiture is the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act. According to Mark Stevens, an assistant criminology professor at California State University, Fresno, the police can either sell this property or keep it for the use of the police department.

Administrative Seizure

Police officers, as well as customs agents, can perform administrative seizures, which include situations where items that are illegal to possess, such as drugs or items that are subject to import restrictions, are confiscated. The police do not need to prove that the owner of the property or the recipient of the package delivery is guilty of any crime or obtain a warrant from a judge to perform an administrative seizure, according to the Department of Justice. Items that are not legal for a citizen to own are not sold at police auctions.

Probable Cause

Probable cause governs whether the police may seize items. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, probable cause for administrative seizure requires reasonable evidence that the property was involved in a crime, a greater threshold than suspicion alone. If the seizure involves real estate, the real estate must pass through the judicial process before law enforcement agents can seize it.

U.S. Marshals Service Auctions

The U.S. Marshals Service sells items that have been seized by many government law enforcement agencies. Agencies such as the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation seize property from criminal enterprises and transfer it to the USMS. The USMS then sells the items and distributes the auction proceeds to other government agencies. Sales regulations still apply to these items; licensed real estate brokers sell seized real estate.

Auction Buyer Restrictions

The police may refuse to sell the seized items to certain individuals. According to the USMS, a marshal may decide not to allow a relative of the criminal whose property was seized to purchase the item at auction. Employees of the government, especially if they are police officers or other law enforcement agents, can be prevented from purchasing seized items to prevent perception of a conflict of interest.

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