Author Information

Thomas Senst


The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the contradictory nature of civil forfeiture through a case analysis of Van Oster v. Kansas and compare the precedent established in this case to current civil forfeiture laws. This case has not received the proper attention that it deserves in civil forfeiture scholarly literature. Van Oster represents a case in which the Supreme Court upheld civil forfeiture, yet the internal logic of their justification suggests that civil forfeiture is unconstitutional. Additionally, this paper will conceptualize judicial dictions and opinions delivered by Justice Brandeis and Justice Holmes, who both served on the Supreme Court in the beginning of the twentieth century, to show that they imply civil forfeiture is unconstitutional. Furthermore, there will be a section discussing the new development of the innocent owner defense as established under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) of 2000. Congress enacted CAFRA to alleviate many of the problems existent in civil forfeiture, such as some of the problems that will arise in Van Oster. To highlight the contemporary relevance of Van Oster, this paper will compare it to CAFRA’s mandated innocent owner defense. As will become clear in the paper, property can be seized despite an owner’s guilt or innocence of a crime.

Note on the Author

Thomas Senst is a graduating senior majoring in Criminal Justice. He began this research project in a directed study with Dr. Jamie Huff (Criminal Justice) in the spring of 2016. He continued his research after being awarded the Adrian Tinsley Summer Research Grant, and presented it at the 2016 Midwestern Criminal Justice Association annual meeting in Chicago. Thomas continued this project as an Honors Thesis.

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