CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari to decide whether a gun owner's acquittal on criminal charges involving firearms precludes a subsequent in rem forfeiture proceeding against those same firearms.
On January 20, 1977, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms seized a cache of firearms from the home of Patrick Mulcahey. Mulcahey was subsequently indicted on charges that he had knowingly engaged in the business of dealing in firearms without a license, in violation of 18 U. S. C.
Following Mulcahey's acquittal of the criminal charges, the United States, pursuant to its authority under 18 U. S. C. § 924(d),
A divided United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed.
In Coffey v. United States, supra, this Court held that a forfeiture action brought against certain distilling equipment was barred by the owner's prior acquittal on charges of removing and concealing distilled spirits with the intent to defraud the revenue. The Court stated:
Although the language quoted above incorporates notions of both collateral estoppel and double jeopardy, the Coffey Court did not identify the precise legal foundation for the rule of preclusion it announced. Perhaps for this reason, later decisions of this Court have reflected uncertainty as to the exact scope of the Coffey holding.
In Helvering v. Mitchell, 303 U.S. 391 (1938), the Court considered the preclusive effect of a prior criminal acquittal on a subsequent action for a monetary penalty. The defendant taxpayer in Mitchell was acquitted of charges that he willfully attempted to evade and defeat the income tax by
This Court, speaking through Justice Brandeis, disagreed. Although the taxpayer argued and the Government conceded that the factual matters at issue in the penalty proceeding had been litigated and determined in the prior criminal action, the Court concluded that "[t]he difference in degree of the burden of proof in criminal and civil cases precludes application of the doctrine of res judicata." 303 U. S., at 397. The Mitchell Court viewed the criminal acquittal as nothing more than a determination that the evidence in the criminal setting was not sufficient to overcome all reasonable doubt that the accused was guilty. See Lewis v. Frick, 233 U.S. 291, 302 (1914). The Court went on to state:
Turning to the taxpayer's argument that double jeopardy barred the assessment of a monetary penalty following his acquittal on related criminal charges, the Court noted:
In concluding that the monetary penalty was merely a remedial civil sanction authorized by Congress to be assessed at the discretion of those administering the tax law, the Court observed that forfeiture of goods or their value and the payment of fixed or variable sums of money are sanctions that have long been recognized as enforceable by civil proceedings. Id., at 400.
Finally, the Mitchell Court considered the effect of the holding in Coffey upon the facts before it. The Court distinguished Coffey on the ground that the Coffey rule did not apply where an acquittal on a criminal charge was followed by a civil action requiring a different degree of proof. The Mitchell Court concluded that the monetary penalty imposed by the revenue laws was a civil administrative sanction; it therefore found Coffey no obstacle to the recovery of the penalty from the taxpayer. 303 U. S., at 405-406.
Most recently, in One Lot Emerald Cut Stones v. United States, 409 U.S. 232 (1972) (per curiam), the Court held that a civil action for forfeiture of a ring and stones was not barred by the owner's prior acquittal on charges of willfully and knowingly, with intent to defraud the United States, smuggling articles into the United States without complying with customs procedures. Reaffirming the principles articulated in Helvering v. Mitchell, supra, the Court reasoned that the difference between the burdens of proof in the criminal and civil cases precluded the application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Double jeopardy was equally inapposite, the Court continued, because the forfeiture asserted against the ring and stones was a civil, not a criminal, sanction. The Court distinguished Coffey on the ground that acquittal on the criminal charges in One Lot Emerald Cut Stones did not necessarily resolve the issues in the later forfeiture action. 409 U. S., at 235, n. 5.
The disposition of the instant case follows readily from the principles articulated in Mitchell and One Lot Emerald Cut Stones. Mulcahey first argues that, because of his earlier criminal acquittal, the doctrine of collateral estoppel operates to preclude the § 924(d) forfeiture action. But an acquittal on criminal charges does not prove that the defendant is innocent; it merely proves the existence of a reasonable doubt as to his guilt. We need not be concerned whether the jury decided to acquit Mulcahey because he was entrapped into making an illegal sale or whether the jurors were not convinced of
Mulcahey next contends that a forfeiture proceeding under § 924(d) is barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Unless the forfeiture sanction was intended as punishment, so that the proceeding is essentially criminal in character, the Double Jeopardy Clause is not applicable. Helvering v. Mitchell, 303 U. S., at 398-399. The question, then, is whether a § 924(d) forfeiture proceeding is intended to be, or by its nature necessarily is, criminal and punitive, or civil and remedial. Resolution of this question begins as a matter of statutory interpretation. Id., at 399. As the Court noted in United States v. Ward, 448 U.S. 242, 248 (1980):
Applying the first prong of the Ward test to the facts of the instant case, we conclude that Congress designed forfeiture under § 924(d) as a remedial civil sanction. Congress' intent in this regard is most clearly demonstrated by the procedural mechanisms it established for enforcing forfeitures under the statute. Section 924(d) does not prescribe the steps to be followed in effectuating a forfeiture, but rather incorporates by reference the procedures of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (Code), 26 U. S. C. §§ 7321-7328. The Code in turn provides that an action to enforce a forfeiture "shall be in the nature of a proceeding in rem in the United States District Court for the district where such seizure is made." 26 U. S. C. § 7323. In contrast to the in personam nature of criminal actions, actions in rem have traditionally been viewed as civil proceedings, with jurisdiction dependent upon seizure of a physical object. See Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U.S. 663, 684 (1974). In addition to establishing the in rem nature of the action, the Code authorizes a summary administrative proceeding for forfeiture of items valued at $2,500 or less, for which notice of a seizure may be by publication. See 26 U. S. C. § 7325. By creating such distinctly civil procedures for forfeitures under § 924(d), Congress has "indicate[d] clearly that it intended a civil, not a criminal, sanction." Helvering v. Mitchell, supra, at 402.
Moreover, § 924(d) is somewhat broader in scope than the criminal provisions of 18 U. S. C. § 922. Section 924(d) subjects to forfeiture "[a]ny firearm or ammunition involved in or used or intended to be used in, any violation of the provisions of this chapter." (Emphasis added.) But § 922(a)(1), the substantive criminal provision under which Mulcahey was prosecuted, does not render unlawful an intention to engage in the business of dealing in firearms without a license; only the completed act of engaging in the prohibited business is
Finally, the forfeiture provision of § 924(d) furthers broad remedial aims. Section 924(d) was enacted as part of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, Pub. L. 90-351, 82 Stat. 233, and later retained without alteration in the Gun Control Act of 1968, Pub. L. 90-618, 82 Stat. 1224. In enacting the 1968 gun control legislation, Congress "was concerned with the widespread traffic in firearms and with their general availability to those whose possession thereof was contrary to the public interest." Huddleston v. United States, 415 U.S. 814, 824 (1974). Accordingly, Congress sought to "control the indiscriminate flow" of firearms and to "assist and encourage States and local communities to adopt and enforce stricter gun control laws." H. R. Rep. No. 1577, 90th Cong., 2d Sess., 8 (1968). Section 924(d) plays an important role in furthering the prophylactic purposes of the 1968 gun control legislation by discouraging unregulated commerce in firearms and by removing from circulation firearms that have been used or intended for use outside regulated channels of commerce. Keeping potentially dangerous weapons out of the hands of unlicensed dealers is a goal plainly more remedial than punitive. Accordingly, we hold that Congress viewed § 924(d) forfeiture as a remedial civil sanction rather than a criminal punishment.
Only one of the Mendoza-Martinez factors — whether or not the proscribed behavior is already a crime — lends any support to Mulcahey's position that § 924(d) imposes a criminal penalty. The fact that actions giving rise to forfeiture proceedings under § 924(d) may also entail the criminal penalties of § 922(a)(1) admittedly suggests that § 924(d) is criminal in nature. But that indication is not as strong as it might seem at first blush. United States v. Ward, supra, at 250. Clearly "Congress may impose both a criminal and a civil sanction in respect to the same act or omission," Helvering v. Mitchell, 303 U. S., at 399; indeed, it has done so on other
In short, an analysis of the Mendoza-Martinez factors in no way undermines Congress' classification of the § 924(d) forfeiture action as a civil sanction. Mulcahey has failed to establish by the "clearest proof" that Congress has provided a sanction so punitive as to "transfor[m] what was clearly intended as a civil remedy into a criminal penalty." Rex Trailer Co. v. United States, 350 U.S. 148, 154 (1956). We accordingly conclude that the forfeiture mechanism set forth in § 924(d) is not an additional penalty for the commission of a criminal act, but rather is a separate civil sanction, remedial in nature. Because the § 924(d) forfeiture proceeding brought against Mulcahey's firearms is not a criminal proceeding, it is not barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause.
We hold that a gun owner's acquittal on criminal charges involving firearms does not preclude a subsequent in rem forfeiture proceeding against those firearms under § 924(d). Neither collateral estoppel nor the Double Jeopardy Clause affords a doctrinal basis for such a rule of preclusion, and we reject today the contrary rationale of Coffey v. United States, 116 U.S. 436 (1886). The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is accordingly reversed, and the case is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
"It shall be unlawful . . . for any person, except a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer, to engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms or ammunition, or in the course of such business to ship, transport, or receive any firearm or ammunition in interstate or foreign commerce."
"Any firearm or ammunition involved in or used or intended to be used in, any violation of the provisions of this chapter or any rule or regulation promulgated thereunder, or any violation of any other criminal law of the United States, shall be subject to seizure and forfeiture and all provisions of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 relating to the seizure, forfeiture, and disposition of firearms, as defined in section 5845(a) of that Code, shall, so far as applicable, extend to seizures and forfeitures under the provisions of this chapter."
"Whether the sanction involves an affirmative disability or restraint, whether it has historically been regarded as a punishment, whether it comes into play only on a finding of scienter, whether its operation will promote the traditional aims of punishment — retribution and deterrence, whether the behavior to which it applies is already a crime, whether an alternative purpose to which it may rationally be connected is assignable for it, and whether it appears excessive in relation to the alternative purpose assigned are all relevant to the inquiry, and may often point in differing directions." Id., at 168-169 (footnotes omitted).
This list of considerations is, however, "neither exhaustive nor dispositive." United States v. Ward, 448 U.S. 242, 249 (1980).