"Unlike a criminal proceeding in which legal action is brought against an individual, in civil forfeiture, the government proceeds against the property directly, as if the property somehow acted to assist in the commission of a crime. It is a scheme based on 18th-century maritime law that permitted courts to obtain jurisdiction over property when it was virtually impossible to obtain jurisdiction over the property owners—pirates, for example—guilty of violating the law.
"Although civil forfeiture remained a relative backwater in American law for many years, modern civil forfeiture expanded greatly during the early 1980s as governments at all levels stepped up the war on drugs. No longer tied to the practical necessities of enforcing maritime law, the forfeiture power now applies to a broad range of crimes. Almost all states and the federal government have civil forfeiture laws, and Georgia’s is among the worst."
Erin Norman and Anthony Sanders, "Forfeiting Accountability: Georgia Law Enforcement's Hidden Civil Forfeiture Funds" (Institute for Justice: Arlington, VA, March 2011), p. 4.