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Montana Supreme Court Affirms Right to Jury Trial in Civil Forfeiture Cases

The ruling strengthens civil asset forfeiture reform laws passed last year by the legislature.

Randy Pench/ZUMA Press/NewscomRandy Pench/ZUMA Press/NewscomThe Montana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that citizens have a right to jury trials in civil asset forfeiture cases, the AP reports.

The Montana Supreme Court decision strengthens a law passed in 2015 reforming the state's asset forfeiture practices, under which police and prosecutors are allowed to seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity.

Police and law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture allows them to disrupt lucrative criminal operations and drug trafficking, but civil liberties groups argue there are few protections for innocent people whose property is seized. A number of other states over the past few years—such as New Mexico, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Maryland, and most recently California— have passed bipartisan legislation of varying strength to overhaul their asset forfeiture laws in response to those criticisms.

Anthony Sanders, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm that has challenged asset forfeiture laws in several states, says his organization "is pleased with the court recognizing the historic right to a jury trial applies in a forfeiture cases."

"You have the right to a jury trial when the government tries to take your liberty, and of course it makes sense to apply that when the government tries takes your property," says Sanders, who formerly clerked for the Montana Supreme Court. "They have a long tradition in Montana of protecting civil liberties, and I'm happy to see the court upholding that."

More from the AP:

The decision orders a jury trial for a Jefferson County man whose land was seized after authorities found more than 300 marijuana plants while investigating an animal-cruelty case in 2011.

Mike Chilinski was convicted in federal court of manufacturing marijuana, but he did not face state drug charges. However, Jefferson County officials sought the forfeiture of Chilinski's property in state court in 2013.

The judge turned the property over to the state after denying Chilinski's request for a trial by jury. The judge in the case cited the law that existed at the time that said proceedings are to be held without a jury.

The high court ruled that law, which has been supplanted by the 2015 law, was unconstitutional.

There are currently two civil rights lawsuits—one filed by the Institute for Justice, and another filed by the ACLU—challenging the constitutionality of Arizona's asset forfeiture laws.

In New Mexico, the Institute for Justice is also suing the city of Albuquerque for continuing to operate a lucrative asset forfeiture program, even though the state passed a law essentially banning civil asset forfeiture in 2015.

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  • Chipwooder||

    O/T, but I'm so happy about this I feel compelled to share: Rolling Stone and Erdley are found GUILTY!

  • ||

    Came here to post that. Linky.

  • Florida Hipster||

    A Rape on Campus' in 2014, we were attempting to tackle the very serious and complex topic of sexual assault on college campuses, a subject that is more relevant today than ever

    So relevant we couldn't find a real case to write about!

  • Microaggressor||

    Fake, but accurate.

  • Doctor Whom||

    +1 higher form of truth.

  • Microaggressor||

    Also, feminist way of knowing

  • Chipwooder||

    Oh, they could have found a real case. The Vanderbilt rape trials were going on around that same time - another preppy southern school like UVA, too, and while they didn't have a Haven Monahan, they did have a white rapist named Brandon Vanderburg.

    Unfortunately, the other three rapists were black, so that story just wouldn't do. BTW, Brandon Vandenburg was just sentenced to 17 years today.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Brandon Vandenburg was just sentenced to 17 years today.

    I know there were mistrials, but it fricken took long enough.

  • tarran||

    Actually, there are cases to write about, but they present a much messier story.

    Because in those cases, not all the frat boys are rape machines, in fact most men that encounter a rape in progress, and this includes frat boys(!) will try to stop it! Callous officials exist, but there are also a lot of officials trying to do the right thing.

    Moreover, most cases are messier. The worst sexual assault case I encountered in the Navy started as an orgy that went wrong. One could even question if the women were victims since they rented the room, advertised a party, asked a bunch of people to bring booze and got so drunk that they weren't able to resist when some unwanted guests showed up.

    The "victims" in question were utterly unsympathetic, and the story was so depraved that at the end I hated everybody involved. An aside, it was also the only time I've ever been interviewed by a journalist for a big story. He chose not to print my "Please refer all questions to our Public Affairs officer" :)

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Ten of the sailors, seven men and three women, have already been found guilty by the ship's captain of sodomy, adultery, and fraternization. The trouble started when a female sailor rented a hotel room and invited her friends to party. "Numerous sexual acts were happening in the same place at the same time," according to a Navy spokesman, who characterized the orgy as "an isolated incident."

    "The trouble started..."

  • tarran||

    YES!!!!

    On Friday, a federal jury in Virginia delivered a rebuke to Rolling Stone in a closely watched defamation case over a controversial article about the gang rape of a freshman identified as "Jackie" at a University of Virginia campus fraternity. The verdict that Rolling Stone, parent company Wenner Media, and writer Sabrina Rudin Erdley were liable on multiple libel claims was announced after a two-week trial. The decision on what damages to award will come later.
  • ||

    Delicious.

  • Chipwooder||

    I assume you're gulping Anna Merlan's tears? They went through Columbia Journalism School, y'know.

    I will never stop finding it funny that she chose to flaunt her credentials.....while working for Gawker. That's like going to Julliard and then taking a job playing piano in a bar at the Ramada Innn.

  • Citizen X||

    Excellent.

  • WTF||

    Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch.

  • WTF||

    Erdely found liable with malice on 6 claims, Wenner and Rolling Stone both found liable on 3 claims.

  • Chipwooder||

    Wenner was so smug in his deposition, too, putting his feet up on the table. Reminds me of Daulerio smirking his way through his deposition in the Hulk Hogan/Gawker case. Never a good look to show a jury.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Wow, really? Yeah, pretty stupid move.

  • ||

    Grab its motherfucking cash!

  • Florida Hipster||

    In New Mexico, the Institute for Justice is also suing the city of Albuquerque for continuing to operate a lucrative asset forfeiture program, even though the state passed a law essentially banning civil asset forfeiture in 2015.

    They're breaking the law so 20 years in prison for the cops, right?

  • ||

    I think in Albuquerque, they just execute you on the spot.

    Or is that only for homeless people?

  • Charles Easterly||

    I think in Albuquerque, they just execute you on the spot.

    Or is that only for homeless people?

    No - they're allowed to execute property owners (and likely any day now, tourists) as well.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    They are kidnapping the vehicles of anyone arrested for DUI.

  • Mithrandir||

    I'm glad to see more movement in regards to opposition to civil asset forfeiture laws recently. Besides the crippling national debt, civil asset forfeiture and indefinite detention with no trial are my two biggest pet issues.

  • Zero Sum Game||

    Well, I guess we could all just move to Montana.

    If/when the national debt collectors come calling, Montana's one of the last places they're going to find the people to pay for it. Montana's people aren't rich, but they do have lots of guns and lots of people who do not trust or like the government. Of course, it's more likely that the real problem won't be the federal government increasing taxes to pay out for the debt. It will be firing up the presses and hyperinflating the currency, and Montana's people probably don't really care about that either. Revert to bartering amongst your neighbors until you can get a currency of your own printed, and Montana's just the kind of state to stick its chin out and print a currency in defiance of Washington.

  • Chip Your Pets||

    Not impressed with Montana at all. Democrat governor, 2 Democrat senators until last year.

    Part of that can be blamed on uncontrolled immigration from the third-world statist hellholes like California, but the entire West has to deal with that.

  • Zero Sum Game||

    Yep, you've got the gist. The real question is what the people do when their backs are the ones against the wall. I'd give Montana's population the benefit of the doubt at the very least.

  • DenverJ||

    Albuquerque really is a shit hole.

  • Charles Easterly||

    That's why you always turn left.

  • Chip Your Pets||

    From the Bezos Post:

    U.S. officials warn of Russian mischief in election and beyond

    U.S. intelligence agencies do not see Russia as capable of using cyberespionage to alter the outcome of Tuesday's presidential election, but they have warned that Moscow may continue meddling after the voting has ended to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the result, U.S. officials said.

    Russia may also meddle by causing people to criticize Hillary Clinton and Democrats in general, and creating the appearance of an overreaching left wing agenda from her presidency. If you see anyone engaged in these pro-Putin activities, please do not engage but call your local FBI office, as there is a large overlap with heavily armed segments like the Oath Keepers and other sovereign citizen movements.

  • Jerryskids||

    LOL - I just saw that one.

    Here's an idea for a WaPo survey - how many people who just read this story are now alarmed that Russia may have a plan to subvert our electoral process and how many are now alarmed that the US government has a plan to subvert our electoral process and blame it on the Russians? Any takers on the proposition that there are going to be some "irregularities" in the voting next Tuesday that are going to require the Obama administration to take control of counting the bananas votes in at least a few key states?

  • CE||

    Or they could just read the 7th Amendment.

  • Jerryskids||

    Police and law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture allows them to disrupt lucrative criminal operations and drug trafficking, but civil liberties groups argue there are few protections for innocent people whose property is seized.

    Why the "but"? These aren't mutually exclusive arguments, nor are they even equally valid arguments. Police and law enforcement groups could disrupt lucrative criminal operations and drug trafficking if they had tactical nukes and the freedom to use them however they pleased, too. Doesn't make an argument for tactical nukes a good argument or a valid argument. Cops will always argue that Constitutional restrictions restrict their ability to deal with crime and criminals - well, no shit. That's why they're called restrictions, dumbass. We know they're restrictions; we put them there, ya moron. And you know why we put them there? TO RESTRICT YOU.

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