'Welcome to the Upside-Down World of Civil Forfeiture'

The Institute for Justice has agreed to help Russell and Pat Caswell resist a conspiracy by local police and the U.S. Justice Department to steal their motel in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. The police say the Motel Caswell, a mortgage-free family business valued at $1 million, is subject to civil forfeiture because during the last two decades a tiny fraction of its guests—less than 0.05 percent, I.J. says—have been arrested for drug offenses. The Caswells say they have reported illegal activity whenever they have discovered it and have always cooperated with the police. Yet because this is a civil forfeiture case, the government need not show that the Caswells themselves did anything wrong; it is their property that is accused of facilitating drug crimes, which is why the case is called United States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Mass. Massachusetts law allows forfeiture in cases like this only when the government can show that the owner "knew or should have known" his property was "used in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances." The Tewksbury police avoided that burden of proof by pursuing forfeiture under federal law, which requires the Caswells to show they "did all that could reasonably be expected under the circumstances to terminate such use of the property." Another advantage of taking the case to the feds: The police department gets to keep 80 percent of the proceeds, whereas under state law it would get only 50 percent.

A new I.J. report highlights the hazards of such "equitable sharing" arrangements, which give law enforcement agencies a strong financial motive to swipe people's property even in states that have tried to curtail that pernicious incentive by diverting forfeiture money to other uses. In the Motel Caswell case, I.J. argues that such end runs around state reforms violate the 10th Amendment. Detailed background on the case here. I.J. has produced a video that concisely explains the issues at stake:

A 2010 I.J. report, Policing for Profit, showed that forfeiture abuses remain common despite state and federal reforms driven by highly publicized outrages. I.J. argues that the only truly effective way to protect innocent owners is to abolish civil forfeiture and require a criminal conviction before property can be taken.

Radley Balko reported on "The Forfeiture Racket" in the February 2010 issue of Reason. More on the subject here.

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  • ||

    Warty pointed out during the morning links thread how the infamous Joe for Lowell commented on this and how the IJ just chooses cuddly subjects so they can destroy the government or some such.

  • ||

    I posted this in the ML's, but it was very late in the day and I doubt many saw it:

    Retired at Thirty-Seven?|10.6.11 @ 11:36AM|#
    What. The. Fuck?
    A retired St. Paul police officer claims another cop who is a former friend unlawfully accessed her records in the state Driver and Vehicle Services database.
    Anne Marie Rasmusson, 37, filed a petition for a harassment restraining order against Jill Loonsfoot, whom she described as a Minneapolis police officer.

    http://www.twincities.com/ci_1.....ost_viewed

    And As someone who owns their house free and clear, this forfeiture story really pisses me off.

  • ||

    Wow. Yeah. Bill Simmons who writes on ESPN.com casually mentioned in one column how his dad just retired as a high school principal in Boston to the tune of 80% of his salary after 30 years work. And we wonder why we are broke.

  • ||

    This woman likely worked no more than fifteen years. Imma gonna google her name.

  • ||

    I would love to have retired at 37. Just go hang out in Europe for a few years.

  • ||

    Google says she's a lawyer now.

  • ||

    I'm surprised Obama hasn't declared that every American is a lawyer. To stimulate the economy.

  • Ska||

    I'm billing $800 an hour to everybody I called just to prove it. Now how do I make letterhead in Word?

  • ||

    Just steal some other firm's. It's what trained attorneys do.

  • Ska||

    Before there was Photoshop there was the good ol' cut and paste Xerox job.

  • Ska||

    Would attaching an image of Lionel Hutz be overkill?

  • ||

    Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer is the preferred image of the generic lawyer.

  • Ska||

    Sound advice - but I better not get a bill for professional services amounting to .2 hours. I appreciate the counsel, but there's a certain level of professional courtesy I expect between peers.

  • ||

    First of all, I bill in quarter-hour increments, in order to turn one minute's work into fifteen minutes of pay.

    Second, I spent five hours preparing my response, including three hours of paralegal support.

    My billing rate is $500/hour, but since you're a colleague, better make it $750/hours. After all, you're an attorney and must be rich.

  • Ska||

    I have so much to learn, and they never teach you this type of important shit at the BHO American School of Law. Time to buy some more cotton bond.

  • ||

    The government will issue a brochure on How to Act Lawyerly, which will be mailed to every person in the country.

  • Suki||

    Make sure you use the ransom font.

  • Walt G||

    Now an official We The People petition:

    "Mandate all confiscated proceeds from asset forfeiture to fund Public Defense in the criminal courts."

    http://wh.gov/2j9

  • ||

    John had this linked this morning. I would certainly go Howard Roark and burn the thing to the fucking ground before I gave it to the governing class.

  • ||

    So would I. But they still would be able to sell the land, which is probably where most of the value is anyway. I think instead I would secretly contaminate the place with PCBs or something. Then let them have it with the bill for cleanup.

  • ||

    I'd convey it to a Type III civilization and dare the government to trespass on their land.

  • ||

    Hey, what is that big monolith out in the yard. I think that violates local signage ordinances.

  • ||

    And it's full of stars! My God!

  • ||

    It is a good rule to not fuck with the neighbor that has a large black monolith in their yard.

  • ||

    I think libertarians should spontaneously erect large, black monoliths in their yards, denying that they put them there. It's geeky and defiant at the same time.

  • ||

    I like that.

  • ||

    I think libertarians should spontaneously erect large, black...

    Stop right there.

  • cynical||

    They'd stick you with the bill. Of course, if you did that and then moved out the country...

  • ||

    I suspect it won't be long before the ruling class can deflower our virgin daughters as was done during the age of feudalism.

  • ||

    Jus primae noctis is a myth, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it become a bureaucratic perk in our "modern" society.

  • ||

    Thanks for the education, Pro Lib.

    But I think I'll pull an Obama and keep using it anyway.

  • ||

    He would.

  • President Obama||

    Let me be clear,

    Michelle will never go for that.

  • rather||

    droit de cuissage is not really a myth but exaggerated. Servants were raped on a regular basis, and often manor houses and castles had secret entrances to your prey's quarters

  • ||

    /rather's favorite sex fantasy.

  • ||

    The Tewksbury police avoided that burden of proof by pursuing forfeiture under federal law, which requires the Caswells to show they "did all that could reasonably be expected under the circumstances to terminate such use of the property." Another advantage of taking the case to the feds: The police department gets to keep 80 percent of the proceeds, whereas under state law it would get only 50 percent.

    How entrepreneurial of them.

  • ||

    Sounds like a conspiracy - the Feds and local police should all be sued for violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

  • Warty||

    joe from Lowell says:
    September 16th, 2010 at 9:38 am

    You know the rest.

  • ||

    He said, "Happy Mexican Independence Day?"

  • ||

    I like to whine about MNG. By my God Joe was the worst. What a pathetic dishonest little bastard Joe was.

  • ||

    Shit. You had to summon it like Beetlejuice, didn't you?

  • Warty||

    Lowellman, Lowellman, Lowellman.

    AUUUUUUGHHHHHHH

  • ||

    I wouldn't be surprised to see it become a bureaucratic perk in our "modern" society.

    "You consented to be raped by the Overlord Class when you agreed to be born here. If you wanted self-ownership, you should have been born in Somalia."

  • ||

    It's not rape. It's an examination.

  • ||

    MNG is starting to show some of the symptoms exhibited by that other sanctimonious twat before he cracked.

  • ||

    The dark side consumes you eventually I guess. It is odd how people slowly crack on here. There was a time, in the far distant past, when Lonewacko and Donderoo were actually reasonably sane posters. And then they got worse. Maybe the same thing is happening to MNG.

  • Fluffy||

    I am struck in the classic threads by the inexplicable dearth of profanity, hatred, and advocacy of violence in my posts.

    So I guess I cracked, too. Just in the good way.

  • Warty||

    I haven't read a word that cunt has written in months. It's refreshing. Give it a try.

  • Mainer||

    I'm surprised John is posting without MNG replying. Stalker or man-crush ?

  • ||

    Are we talking rape or rape-rape, just to be clear?

  • Mainer||

    That still pisses me off...fuck Whoopi Goldberg...well, not literally.

  • ||

    libertarians should spontaneously erect large, black monoliths in their yards

    I must consider this.

  • ||

    Be sure that your monolith is perfectly proportioned, 1:4:9!

  • kilroy||

    There was an article in Byte magazine many years ago by Steve Gibson of Gibson Research Corp. The whole article was about this large black obelisk he had built in front of the corporate HQ. He had a ULF generator installed inside of it so whenever you approached you'd get this feeling of power emanating from it. He said something like "I wanted people to think 'This thing could hurt me if it wanted to'." I looked all over for an article link but no joy.

    I'll get started building my own tomorrow.

  • ||

    Is that the golden ratio or am I thinking of something else.

  • ||

    That's something else.

    Clarke made up some significance in the proportions, based on the dimensions being the squares of the first three primes.

  • DRM||

    1 isn't prime. They're the first three counting numbers, but the first three primes are 2, 3, 5.

  • ||

    Give it a try.

    I do a lot of skimming* on those threads.

    *by which I mean rapidly hammering the space bar

  • ||

    It is odd how people slowly crack on here.

    Water conquers rock.

  • Paul||

    which is why the case is called United States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Mass.

    Fuck this is confusing. So corporations are people now?

  • ||

    "Soylent Green is corporations!"

  • Ska||

    I'm not suing you, I'm suing the property at your address.

  • Paul||

    The property should put the system on trial!

  • THE PROPERTY||

    I'M NOT A PART OF THIS SYSTEM! MAAAAAN! I THREW IT ON THE...ON ME!!!

  • ||

    It's not even the corporation they are suing. It is the physical property; things. It gets even more bizarre when the forfeiture suit is US v. Two Hundred Thousand Five Hundred Thirty Six Dollars.

  • Paul||

    And when did Walter Matthau get into the small motel business?

  • Fluffy||

    Not only should they burn down the property, but they should embrace the theory that all properties where drug activity takes place are equally guilty, and they should burn down every last public school in Massachusetts.

  • Suki||

    This sucks.

  • ||

    ""showed that forfeiture abuses remain common despite state and federal reforms""

    The only federal reform you need is the one that ends the practice.

  • ||

    Which should've happened when the Supreme Court reviewed the idea of civil forfeiture. Instead, they gave it a thumbs up and laughed and laughed and laughed.

  • Mainer||

    the way we laughed when we found out the word cock is in the Bible.

  • Paul||

    Stare decisis and other latin-ey sounding phrases.

  • ||

    Which means "stare decisively." Each justice stares decisively at the other justices while sitting at the Round Table of Justice. Whoever can stare the longest without flinching, laughing, or looking away gets to write the opinion.

  • Mainer||

    Seriously, when I was a teenager and this civil forfeiture started, I used to argue with my Dad, a circuit court judge, that it was a bad idea and ripe for abuse. Law enforcement for profit is a bad idea, period. His position was, it was needed to get those big time drug dealers who could use their ill-gotten gains to pay for their legal defense. Somehow, some sort of natural instinct told me, in the long run, it will be abused because IT's a BAD IDEA on it's face.

    Point being, I was right and Dad was wrong.

  • ChrisO||

    If this goes through, it will be interesting to see if some developer conveniently winds up with the property for dirt cheap. Generally, no-tell motels aren't in the best part of town, but this presents a very interesting possible for under-the-radar eminent domain.

  • ||

    If I were the Caswells, I'd would go Howard fucking Roark if I lost that case, and dynamite the shit out of that motel.

  • ||

    Shit, Marshall beat me to that point. Gotta remember to contain my bile until I've read the comments...

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Would a chain name brand or big downtown Beantown hotel ever get caught up in shit like this? Doubt it. This is pure robbery by the bullshit masshole government. Fuck Massoftwoshits and those fucking drug warrior pigs.

  • ||

    "I.J. argues that the only truly effective way to protect innocent owners is to abolish civil forfeiture and require a criminal conviction before property can be taken."

    I would really like to see the serious, reasonable argument in support of the contrary assertion. I frankly cannot imagine one. Especially at the Federal level, Civil Forfeiture as a concept seems so antithetical to the spirit (if not the precise letter) of the Constitution, that I can only conclude it was rammed through as one of those extraordinary "tools" our government at one time claimed it needed to get "the really bad guys." This is why my own preference is to deny such tools to the government, even if they might prove, on occasion, to be effective in getting those "really bad guys." I'm a lot less afraid that a gangster or racketeer will shake me down, than I am that the government will decide that they want my stuff, and simply take it, using "tools" provided to them for taking down "really bad guys."

  • ||

    Also, where is IJ on the issue of the Liberty Dollar bullion seizure? That's a case they definitely ought to take.

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  • daveInAustin||

    It's no coincidence that he had no mortgage and he was targeted. You can see it on COPS: they ask people caught with drugs in their car if they still have a loan on the car. If not, then the car is subject to forfeiture. The lesson here is to keep everything leveraged to the hilt.

  • ||

    One lesson, here, is to keep your place mortgaged to the eyeballs, and preferably keep that money in something unrelated. A poison pill defense.

  • ||

    Forfeiture is becoming more and more prevalent in this country. To see the hundreds of pages of property our Government has seized from its citizens and plans to keep go to "forfeiture.gov"

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