In rem jurisdiction arises when a court exercises power over property (rather than an individual) in order to make a determination as to its ownership, encumbrances, levies, and, in some circumstances, it's connection to criminal activity.
In the context of a forfeiture proceeding, in rem jurisdiction is often preferred, as a separate civil action against every person or entity with a potential legal interest in seized property would be administratively impossible.
As such, and operating from the 10,000-foot level, when the government commences an in rem forfeiture action, it is essentially saying:
"This property was derived from, or was used to commit, a criminal offense. For a variety of public policy and law enforcement reasons, it should be confiscated. Anyone who has a legal interest in the property and who wishes to contest the forfeiture may now do so."
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