Civil forfeiture essentially means the government can take or even sell your property and not even charge you with a crime, let alone convict you of one.
The interest on the part of the DEA and Tewksbury police surrounds some of the guests who over the past 20 years have been arrested for crimes.
Out of the 125,000 rooms rented out during this time span, only 19 arrests have occurred, which is quite obviously a ludicrously low percentage of the total guests.
“I think it is quite obvious why the federal government has come after us and not other businesses,” said Russell “We own a million-dollar property with no mortgage, so anything they get here, they get to keep.”
The Caswells will have the libertarian public law firm Institute for Justice (IJ) in their corner when the trial gets underway on November 5 in Boston.
“The Caswells have always worked hard to prevent and stop crime on their property and they have no criminal record whatsoever,” said Darpana Sheth, an IJ attorney. “Indeed, the police admit that the Caswells have no involvement in crime. To take property away from someone who has never committed any crime is fundamentally wrong and un-American.”
IJ will also be challenging the equitable sharing program, arguing it violates the 10th Amendment on the grounds that it creates incentives for local agencies to evade state law.
The Caswells are not the only individuals to be victims of civil forfeiture.
As stated by the authors, equitable sharing is a federal law enforcement practice allowing for local police and prosecutors to circumvent the civil forfeiture laws of a state for financial gain.
During the years of 2000 and 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice saw their equitable sharing payments from state and local law enforcement increase from $200 million to $400 million.
The report also explains that as much as 80 percent of the proceeds are returned to the seizing agency.
While the study has a wealth of information and is too comprehensive to reproduce (I encourage all to read the entire document), here are some tidbits which are worth mentioning:
Table 2: Innocent Owner Burden in State Civil Forfeiture Laws
Owner must prove innocence
Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Depends on property
Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico, Utah
Besides the Caswell trial, the IJ has fought other cases involving private property:
“Van Meter v. Turner—IJ represented Georgia citizens to hold local law enforcement agencies—the Atlanta Police Department, Fulton County Police Department and Fulton County Sheriff—accountable under Georgia’s forfeiture reporting law. Georgia law requires that law enforcement agencies publish a report each year of all forfeitures they conduct and indicate how the money they receive is used. Despite the clear legal requirement to do so, these agencies never made such information public until IJ brought them to state court.
State of Texas v. One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado—The State of Texas took the truck of an innocent owner through civil forfeiture and refused to give it back. To right this outrage, and attack various unconstitutional aspects of Texas’ civil forfeiture laws, the Institute for Justice is representing small businessman Zaher El-Ali, a man the state admits had nothing to do with the alleged criminal activity that led to his truck’s seizure.
Utahans for Property Protection—IJ represented a group of Utah citizens that filed a “notice of claim” with the attorney general of Utah, successfully forcing him to take immediate action to secure the return of the funds for forfeitures that should have gone to public education.
Wells v. City of Riviera Beach— The Institute for Justice successfully defeated an attempt in Riviera Beach, Fla., to abuse its power of eminent domain and displace more than 5,000 residents for a massive private development project that included a yacht marina, luxury condominiums and upscale hotels.
City of Norwood v. Horney—In a resounding repudiation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled in July 2006 that the city of Norwood acted unconstitutionally in its efforts to abuse eminent domain and take the homes of the Institute for Justice’s clients for a privately owned mall.
Kelo v. City of New London—Just three years after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, which allowed private property to be taken for economic development, 43 states have tightened their restrictions on eminent domain. In 2007, IJ client Susette Kelo’s little pink cottage—the home that became a national symbol of the fight against eminent domain abuse—was moved so that it would not be demolished by the government’s wrecking ball.
Casino Reinvestment Development Authority v. Banin—In a classic David versus Goliath battle, the Institute for Justice scored a major victory for property rights in July 1998 when the New Jersey Superior Court ruled a state agency could not condemn widow Vera Coking’s home of 37 years through eminent domain and give it to Donald Trump for his private development.”
Hopefully, there will be a pleasant outcome for the Caswells and if that occurs, maybe a trend of rewriting civil forfeiture laws across the nation will become commonplace.
“The Institute of Justice has documented time and again that civil forfeiture invites a lack of accountability, a lack of due process and a lack of constitutionally enshrined restraints on government authority. Civil forfeiture needs to end. If the government wants to take someone’s property, it should first be required to convict that person of a crime. Short of that, you will end up with what we have today in Tewksbury and elsewhere,” said IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mello.
Edited by End the Lie
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