In law, the act of seizing property without compensation and submitting it to the public treasury. Illegal items such as narcotics or firearms, or profits from the sale of illegal items, may be confiscated by the police. Additionally, government action (e.g., zoning or rate setting) that reduces the value of property to an owner so as to make it nearly worthless has been held to constitute confiscation. Seealso eminent domain, search and seizure.
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Such rich prizes often proved too much temptation for the authorities to refrain from abuse out of greed, especially when taxation was relatively low-yielding, not permanent (often requiring assent from estates etc. at a political cost) and aroused far more resistance than 'making criminals pay'.
In airports, potentially dangerous items (such as hazardous chemicals, weapons, and sharp objects) are usually confiscated at inspections. Other items, such as certain food, may also be confiscated, depending on importation laws. Depending on the nature of the items, some may be returned at the end of the flight, while most are discarded or auctioned off. However, customs officers have a disreputable reputation, exercising arbitrary power. The musical comedian Anna Russell had an Irish harp confiscated by the U.S. Customs Service.
Originally, in Roman law, it was the seizure and transfer of private property to the fiscus by the emperor; hence the appropriation, under legal authority, of private property to the state. In modern, e.g. English law, the term embraces forfeiture in the case of goods, and escheat in the case of lands, for crime or in default of heirs (see also Eminent Domain). Goods may also be confiscated by the state for breaches of statutes relating to customs, excise or explosives. In the United States among the "war measures" during the American Civil War, acts were passed in 1861 and 1862 confiscating, respectively, property used for "insurrectionary purposes" and the property generally of those engaged in rebellion.
A further trend has been the reversal of the burden of proof for the purpose of facilitating confiscation.