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Rosenstein: Feds don't confiscate property from the innocent

If the woman described in your asset forfeiture article did not know about the illegal drug business in her basement, prosecutors could not forfeit her house ("Seizing assets to take profits from crime," Feb. 17). The law is clear: "An innocent owner's interest in property shall not be forfeited under any civil forfeiture statute."

Federal courts supervise asset forfeiture cases. If someone makes an innocent owner claim, the court will evaluate the evidence to determine whether she knew about the criminal activity on her property and whether she tried to stop it.

A property owner can tell her side of the story in a written affidavit or an oral deposition. Prosecutors would drop the case if they believed she was an innocent owner. At trial, the owner would prevail if the judge or jury believed her claim of innocence.

Sometimes people settle forfeiture cases before answering any questions under oath, then claim they were innocent owners. A healthy measure of skepticism is in order if a property owner passed up the opportunity to proclaim her innocence when it would have made a difference.

Rod J. Rosenstein, Baltimore

The writer is Maryland's U.S. Attorney.

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