Confiscate refers to when the government takes a person’s property without compensation. The government can choose to confiscate a person’s possessions for a variety of reasons such as the item being contraband like child pornography or drug paraphernalia or to satisfy the person’s debts.
Police are also able to confiscate property they believe was used in furtherance of a crime or connected to the crime, so long as their state statute allows them to seize the property. For example, if law enforcement arrests a person suspected of drug dealing, they will often confiscate large quantities of money they believe have a connection to the crime or a car they believe was used in furtherance of the crime.
State law dictates what happens to the property once it has been seized by the police. Some states allow the police department to keep the funds for themselves. Other states require the funds to go back to the community, such as to state schools. The federal Equitable Sharing Program allows local police to keep up to 80% of the money and 20% goes to the federal government for their investigation work, when the state and federal police work together.
[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]