Jacob Sullum on the Feds' Attempt to Seize a Motel Because Its Guests Committed Drug Offenses


During a recent trial in Boston, a federal prosecutor argued that the Motel Caswell in Tewksbury is a "dangerous property" ripe for seizure. She cited one heroin overdose and 14 incidents in which guests or visitors were arrested for drug crimes at the motel from 1994 through 2008—a minuscule percentage of the 200,000 or so room rentals during that period. As Russell Caswell, the motel's 69-year-old owner, explained to the Associated Press, "They are holding me responsible for the actions of a few people who I don't know and I've never met before, people who rent a room." Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of civil forfeiture, where property can be guilty even when its owner is innocent.