Civil Asset Forfeiture

Feds Give Up Trying to Seize a Motel Based on Drug Offenses by a Few Guests


Institute for Justice

Today the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston said it will not appeal a ruling that blocked the federal government's attempt to seize and sell a family-owned motel in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, based on drug offenses committed by a tiny fraction of the people who stayed there. The government conceded that the owner, Russell Caswell, did not participate in those crimes and was not aware of them at the time, but it argued that he was "willfully blind" to them. In January, U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein ruled that the Motel Caswell was not subject to civil forfeiture because it was not connected to drug crimes closely enough. Even if the forfeiture law did apply, Dein said, Caswell would qualify for the "innocent owner" defense, a provision aimed at protecting people whose property is used for illegal purposes without their knowledge.

"The Caswell family has been put through the wringer by the federal government for over three years," says Scott Bullock of the Institute for Justice, which represented the Caswells, "and we are thrilled that this law-abiding family is now finally safe from civil forfeiture "The Caswells stood to lose everything for which they had worked so hard. This case epitomizes everything that is wrong with civil forfeiture laws and why they are in such desperate need of reform. We will build off of this victory in future cases to once and for all end civil forfeiture and the inevitable abuses that surround it."

Previous coverage of the case here.

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  1. Judge Dein: “I’m sorry counselor, but the ‘fuck you that’s why’ justification won’t fly in my courtroom.”

  2. Is the United States Attorney on suicide watch?

    1. I hope not. If he offed himself, maybe there’d be a few fed-free days in his district while his replacement’s organized.

      1. No, that’s what AUSAs are for.

    2. Bitch doesn’t deserve the easy way out.

      I hope she gets ovarian, cervical, and pancreatic cancer.

      1. you forgot anal cancer

        1. And testicular and prostate 🙂

  3. Wow. NSL’s get thumped in court and now asset forfeiture takes a whacking as well. It’s a good Friday (just not THE Good Friday).

  4. The asset forfeiture laws were obviously hastily made. If they hadn’t been so greedy and agreed to split the proceeds giving the judicial branch a cut, then maybe the judge would’ve bought the ‘willfully blind’ argument.

    Shucks, that family hotel would have been very useful to law enforcement for a place to meet hookers, hide drugs and other confiscated property.

    1. The sad part is, it used to be much worse. Before reform, some police departments felt free to walk the streets, put people up against the wall if they were in the wrong part of town, and take anything of value on their person: cash, jewelry, anything. Since crack cost $10/rock in the 80’s, if you had that much you were assumed to be buying.

      It was called “robbery with a badge”.

  5. Is it just me, or is that guy a dead ringer for Walter Matthau?

    1. He does! The motel also looks like a fun place. If I’m seeing the photo correctly, I think each unit has its own air conditioner sitting on the windowsill. Looks like a good spot for Mayor Quimby to take one of those beauty queens still wearing her “Miss ___” sash.

    2. I thought the same thing

    3. It is SO not you. And I’m pissed that I’m late to the thread because I was going to ask why Walter Matthau was running a small hotel with druggies for guests?

  6. I am happy for the Caswells.

    They’ve been through three years of hell and probably have a huge legal bill.

    The US Attorney’s office should be required to mow their lawn and clean all of the rooms for the next 20 years.

    On second thought, letting them clean the rooms might be a bad idea.

    1. Doesn’t the IJ take on cases pro bono?

      1. Yeah I’m pretty sure it was pro bono, and that it was three years of hell. Nice to see a positive-ish outcome.

      2. I’m not sure how this works if the prevailing party is awarded reimbursement for their legal represention and how that would work in this case. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

        1. Caswells were awarded attorney fees.

          1. Glad to hear that; they should have been awarded lost personal time for what they spent.
            And it should come out of the asshole prosecutors’ pay.

            1. This is precisely what I’m thinking. I stated before on a sadly familiar but honestly unmemorable thread that prosecutors should have a pricetag attached to these rulings.

              1. “prosecutors should have a pricetag attached to these rulings.”

                Skin in the game or the assholes don’t get to play!

                1. +1 pithier

  7. When I was little that motel tried to give me drugs on the playground. And then it fondled my genitals. All of them.

    1. That motel used to be called Roman Polanski?

      1. But I was pretty unresponsive, but in fairness that may just have been because I had already taken a lot of drugs after fondling my own genitals.

        1. Sounds like every Friday night for you. Are you hopped up on goofballs yet?

          1. If by goofballs you mean Vicodin and cough syrup then ye- no I’m not.

            1. When he passes out I plan on stealing his salt shaker of cocaine.

            2. So where’s my invitation to come over and join you?!? I’ll bring the lubricant and some beer.

              1. Haven’t you been paying attention? The Vicodin, cough syrup and cocaine is the lubricant. Don’t do drugs, kids.

                1. I’m on my way.

                2. The Vicodin, cough syrup and cocaine is the lubricant. Don’t do drugs, kids.

                  Consider me scared straight.

                    1. Yeah, its not like Warty was on his way over!

                3. Don’t do drugs, kids.

                  Wait, are you Bill Shulz from Red Eye or just channeling him?

    2. Are you sure it was that one and not any of the myriad of architecturally identical motels up and down US Route 1?

    3. Well, thank god there were no child pornificators caught in his motel. The local townfolk would have burned it to the ground.

      1. The child pontificators, however, are still out in legion. Dr. Spock is their god.

  8. I wonder if the recent Aaron Swartsky bad press left them a little reluctant…. Fuck those slavers.

    1. “Swartz” Will be missed.

  9. Keep reforming these laws. There is still way too much abuse

  10. Holy fuck! Some good news for a change.

    I hope that DEA scum Vincent Kelly and US Atty Carmen Ortiz end forming their own human millipede one day.

    These are the wastes of oxygen that make you wish that Hell truly exists.

  11. Wicked Awesome!

  12. Walter Matthau looks pretty good for being dead more than a decade.

  13. This case epitomizes everything that is wrong with civil forfeiture laws and why they are in such desperate need of reform rescending completely.

  14. Don’t get too excited. The feds can still declare it a wet land and fine the owner 10000 dollars a day.

    1. Putting drugs into wetlands is very bad, mkay?

  15. I’m very happy to hear that the thieves have lost this round, but I’m disgusted that none of them will suffer any consequences at all for the attempt. “Civil forfeiture” is a blatant violation of the fifth amendment, and if we ever have working justice system in this country again, every son of a bitch who ever participated in it would do hard time for it.


  16. What is really crazy is if the motel owner had prevented some of the guests staying because he thought they might be drug dealers he probably would be charged under some Federal anti-discrimination law.

    1. Yep.

      Remember that the government is really the societal formalization of the extractive class. This class always finds a way to extract wealth out of the productive. It’s just in this day and age, instead of raping and pillaging, the extractors use the strong arm of the law to get their way. This shrouds them in a cloak of legitimacy and isn’t as messy.

    2. This isn’t too far-fetched, since the administration has been suggesting it may be illegal for employers to do criminal background checks on their employees. It’s not a great logical leap to suggest that screening motel/hotel guests for criminal history is also illegal.

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