Forfeiture “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “forfeiture” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and “Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:”




A word often used as a synonym of “penalty” but which is, precisely, a divestiture of property without compensation, in consequence of a default or an offense [36 Am J2d Forf & P § 1]; an enforced an involuntary loss of a right [Storm v. Barbara Oil Co. 177 Kan 589, 282 P2d 417].

A judicial act, such as the forfeiture of a bail bond or recognizance [Re Wright, 228 NC 584, 46 SE2d 696]. An incident of the old attainder whereby, as a form of punishment for crime, the estate of a convicted felon was extinguished, the property going to the king [21 Am J2d Crim L § 616]. An incident of the old attainder whereby, as a form of punishment for crime, the estate of a convicted felon was extinguished, the property going to the king [21 Am J2d Crim L§ 616]. An incident of attainder consequent upon the flight of a felon [23 Am J2d Desc & D § 91].


  1. Forfeiture is a punishment annexed by law to some illegal act, or negligence, in the owner of lands, tenements, or hereditaments, whereby he loses all his interest therein, and they become vested in the party injured, as a recompense for the wrong which he alone, or the Public together with himself, hath sustained [2 Bl. Com. 267].
  2. Lands, tenements and hereditaments, may be forfeited by various means:
    1. By the commission of crimes and misdemeanors.
    2. By alienation contrary to law.
    3. By the non-performance of conditions.
    4. By waste
  3. Forfeiture for crimes: By the Constitution of the United States [Article 1, Section 3], it is declared that no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture, except during the life of the person attained. And by the Act of April 30th, 1790 [s. 24, 1 Story’s Laws U. S. 88, it is enacted, that no conviction or judgment for any of the offences aforesaid, shall work corruption of blood, or any forfeiture of estate. As the offences punished by this act are of the blackest dye, including cases of treason, the punishment of forfeiture may be considered as being abolished. The forfeiture of the estate for crime is very much reduced in practice in this country, and when it occurs, the state takes the title the party had, and no more [4 Mason’s R. 174; Dalrymple on Feudal Property, c. 4, p. 145 – 154; Fost. C. L. 95].
  4. Forfeiture by alienation: By the English law, estates less than a fee may be forfeited to the party entitled to the residuary interest by a breach of duty in the owner of the particular estate. When a tenant for life or years, therefore, by feoffment, fine, or recovery, conveys a greater estate than he is by law entitled to do, he forfeits his estate to the person next entitled in remainder or reversion [2 Bl. Com. 274]. In this country, such forfeitures are almost unknown, and the more just principle prevails, that the conveyance by the tenant operates only on the interest which he possessed, and does not affect the remainder-man or reversioner [4 Kent, Com. 81, 82, 424; 1 Hill. Ab. c. 4, S. 25 to 34; 3 Dall. Rep. 486; 5 Ohio, R. 30].
  5. Forfeiture by non-performance of conditions: An estate may be forfeited by a breach or non-performance of a condition annexed to the estate, either expressed in the deed at its original created, or impliedly by law, from a principle of natural reason [2 Bl. Com. 281; and see Ad Eject. 140 to 173. Vide article Reentry; 12 Serg. & Rawle, 190].
  6. Forfeiture by waste: Waste is also a cause of forfeiture [2 Bl. Com. 283; Vide article Waste].
  7. By forfeiture is also understood the neglect of an obligor to fulfill his obligation in proper time: as, when one has entered into a bond for a penal sum, upon condition to pay a smaller at a particular day, and he fails to do it, there is then said to be a forfeiture. Again when a party becomes bound in a certain sum by a recognizance to pay a certain sum, with a condition that he will appear at court to answer to prosecute a crime, and he fails to do it, there is a forfeiture of the recognizance. Courts of equity, and now courts of law, will relive from the forfeiture of a bond; and upon a proper case shown, criminal courts will in general relieve from the forfeiture of a recognizance to appear [See 3 Yeates, 93; 2 Wash. C. C. 442 Blackf. 104, 200; Breeze, 257. Vide, generally, 2 Bl. Com. ch. 18; Bouv. Inst. Index, h. t.; 2 Kents Com; 318; 4 Id. 422; 10 Vin. Ab. h. t.; 1 Bro Civ. L. 252 4 Bl. Com. 382; and Considerations on the law of Forfeiture for High Treason, London ed. I746].



  1. A punishment annexed by law to some illegal act or negligence in the owner of lands, tenements, or hereditaments, and they to the party injured as a recompense for the wrong which he alone, or the public together with himself, hath sustained [2 Bl. Comm. 267. Wiseman v. Menuity, 25 Cal. 237].
  2. The loss of land by a tenant to his lord, as the consequence of some breach of fidelity [1 Steph. Comm. 166]
  3. The loss of lands and goods to the state, as the consquence of crime [4 Bl. Comm. 381, 387; 4 Steph. Comm. 447, 452; 2 Kent, Comm. 385L 4 Kent, Comm. 426. Avery v. Everett, 110 N. Y. 317, 18 N. E. 148, 1 L. R. A. 264, 6 Am. St. Rep. 368].
  4. The loss of goods or chattels, as a punishment for some crime or misdemeanor in the party forfeiting, and as a compensation for the offense and injury committed against him to whom they are forfeited [2 Bl. Comm. 420].
  • It should be noted that “forfeiture” is not an identical or convertible term with “confiscation.” The latter is the consequence of the former. Forfeiture is the result which the law attaches as an immediate and necessary consequence to the illegal acts of the individual; but confiscation implies the action of the state; and property, although it may be forfeited, cannot be said to be confiscated until the government has formally claimed or taken possession of it.
  1. The loss of office by abuser, non-user, or refusal to exercise
  2. The loss of a corporate franchise or charter in consequence of some illegal act, or of a malfeasance or non-feasance.
  3. The loss of the right to life, as the consequence of the commission of some crime to which the law has affixed a capital penalty.
  4. The incurring a liability to pay a definite sum of money as the consequence of violating the provisions of some state, or refusal to comply with some requirement of law [State v. Marion County Com’rs, 85 Ind. 493].
  5. A thing or sum of money forfeited. Something imposed as a punishment for an offense or delinquency. The word in this sense is frequently associated with the word “penalty.” [Van Buren v. Digges, 11 How. 477, 13 L. Ed. 771].
  6. In mining law, the loss of a mining claim held by location on the public domain (unpatented) in consequence of the failure of the holder to make the required annual expenditure upon it within the time allowed [McKay v. McDougall, 25 Mont. 258, 64 Pac. 669, 87 Am. St. Rep. 395; St. John v. Kidd, 26 Cal. 271].
  • Forfeiture of a bond: A failure to perform the condition on which the obligor was to be excused from the penalty in the bond.
  • Forfeiture of marriage: A penalty incurred by a ward in chivalry who marred without the consent or against the will of the guardian [See DUPLEX VALOR MARITAGII].
  • Forfeiture of silk: Supposed to lie in the docks, used, in times when its importation was prohibited, to be proclaimed each term in the exchequer.
  • Forfeitures abolition act: Another name fort the felony act of 1870, abolishing forfeitures for felony in England.



1. The act of forfeiting; the losing of some right, privilege, estate, honor, office or effects, by an offense, crime, breach of condition or other act. In regard to property, forfeiture is a loss of the right to possess, but not generally the actual possession, which is to be transferred by some subsequent process. In the feudal system, a forfeiture of lands gave him in reversion or remainder a right to enter.

2. That which is forfeited; an estate forfeited; a fine or mulet. The prince enriched his treasury by fines and forfeitures.

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