Drug Policy

The Not-So-Guilty Owner Defense


After police found marijuana growing in the basement of Harold Von Hofe's Branford, Connecticut, home, the federal government moved to seize the house. That much is par for the course. The surprising part is that a federal appeals court stepped in, ruling last week that Von Hofe's share of the house was fair game, but the part belonging to his wife, Kathleen, was not. Kathleen Von Hofe's attempt to use the "innocent owner" defense created by the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 failed because a jury found that she was aware of her husband's hobby. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit concluded that seizing her half of the house, worth about $124,000, would violate the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause, which the Supreme Court has said applies to forfeitures with a punitive purpose. "Mrs. von Hofe's offensive conduct boils down to her joint ownership of 32 Medley Lane and silence in the face of her husband's decision to grow 20 marijuana in their basement almost thirty years into their marriage," the court said. "And yet she is being punished as if she were distributing drugs, when the district court concluded as a matter of fact that she had no knowledge of any distribution or remuneration." According to Kathleen Von Hofe's lawyer, she may end up taking out a mortgage to buy what is now the government's half of the house.

NEXT: Drunken Journalism

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  1. “Mrs. von Hofe’s offensive conduct boils down to her joint ownership…

    Hee hee

  2. OK, so $124,000 is not an excessive fine for growing 20 MJ plants?

    I mean, I’m glad they’re noticing part of the Bill of Rights, but it’d be nice if they were consistent about it.

  3. And I will make the obligatory point, that this whole dung heap is the result of prohibition. There’s no reason it should be illegal for Harold to grow pot in his basement to begin with. But if it wasn’t illegal, he probably wouldn’t.

  4. Also, I love the fact that the fines don’t apply to the wife because she didn’t know about any distribution…but if you have above a certain amount of pot, you’re guilty of distribution even if you yourself have no intent to distribute!

  5. Do Homestead laws prevent this kind of shinnanigans? Or is there just no protection anywhere?

  6. steveitk: I believe the Supremes have said that in cases like this Federal pre-emption applies to overrule state homestead laws.

  7. Oh face it. The government is completely and utterly out of control. Hell, yesterday Bush pardoning a guy who outed a US spy. I’m not surprised by this at all. If anything, I’m surprised that they didn’t declare this poor guy a “terrorist” and ship him off to Guantanamo Bay to be tortured.

  8. Thanks Ron.

  9. Growing weeds supports terrorism, thank God the got ’em.

  10. Fight terrorism! Grow your own dope!

    Catchy, huh?

  11. I actually saw this on cnn.com. It was under the heading “Funny News

  12. Wow. A limit to asset forfeiture. Never thought I’d see the day.

  13. I wonder if she needs to buy back the interest from the gov. All they are going to do is auction it off, who would purchase a half interest in this home? And because her half wasn’t seized I believe it would be protected by state homestead laws.

  14. So, how would they split the insurance bill on the home? Energy bill? I mean, it’s not as if the wife can simply air condition her side of the house without having to do the same for the other side. I would ask the gov to split all utility and insurance bills if I were her.

  15. The government can have the basement.

  16. Let the govt record a $124,000 lien against the house, they collect when (if) she sells. Thus, she keeps full control of the house and pays no mortage interest on the $124K in the interim.

  17. This makes no sense under the deodand theory, by which the thing is guilty and forfeited, and it’s not a punishment of anybody. Either the entire house, or a specific room of it, facilitated the crime, and so either the whole house should be forfeited, or somehow the room used for growing forfeited, or none of it forfeited. Unless they’re saying his half of the house was bought with proceeds from growing marijuana there, which I don’t think they’re saying.

  18. Well I hope this teaches that house a lesson. I bet that house will never grow pot again.

    Bad house! Bad!

  19. This is America…you never “own” anything, you only borrow it from the government. Sometimes they want their stuff back.

  20. If I ever jointly own a house with anyone who wants to grow pot or be involved with other drugs, I’m just going to ask that person to set aside a part of the house that I should just not look or go into. I’ll just “not need to know” the reason why.

    Oh yea, and drugs should be legal for adults to use. And the whole civil asset forefiture thing is just an extra added injustice tacked on to an already unjust and irrational policy.

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