Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Victory for the Caswells and the Rule of Law!

You may recall my post from 2011 about the Rule of Law.   In this post I linked to a video discussing the civil forfeiture case against Russell Caswell, of Tewksbury, Mass., a law abiding citizen.  The facts of the case boiled down to these: criminals sometimes sold drugs on the motel property; the owner and employees reported suspicious activity to the police; the police decided to seize the motel and sell it at auction because of the criminal activity - even though it had nothing to do with the law abiding owner who actively attempted to disrupt said activity.

I am happy to report that the court has officially rejected the seizure of the motel.
In a sometimes scathing ruling, which for now halts the civil action brought by the federal government, U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Dein said the federal government "had not met its burden of proving a substantial connection between the Motel Caswell and the forfeitable crimes, and, therefore, has not met its burden of proving that the Property is forfeitable."
The judge added that the motel's proprietor, Russell Caswell, of Tewksbury, Mass., did meet his "burden of proving the innocent owner defense."
The government justifies asset forfeiture by saying the practice deprives drug dealers of their assets and thus hurts their operations.  In practice, though, what it is really used for is to fund local and state police departments - often at the expense of law abiding citizens without the means to fight back.  Such is the case in several states in the south, where police routinely pull over out of town visitors and confiscate their cash under the pretense of fighting drugs, and also with the Caswells, among others.  Read the Institute for Justice's article Policing for Profit.
Federal and most state laws allow both civil and criminal asset forfeitures. In civil asset forfeiture, action is taken against a person’s property or assets, not against an individual. A person’s property is the target of the legal proceeding, and the owner is secondary. The owner does not have to be arrested or convicted of a crime to have his property taken. By contrast, criminal forfeitures occur against a person after conviction for an underlying criminal offense.
The bottom line is that law enforcement agencies and the state and federal government are rejecting the presumption of innocence, which is the cornerstone of justice.  Without the presumption of innocence, we really live in a pure tyranny, where anyone, at any time, can be stopped, arrested, beaten, robbed and killed by authorities who are supposedly working for us.  This disgusting behavior is systemic in the American justice system, as even up at the highest levels, the President justifies the murder of American citizens overseas without due process.  Indeed, the President and his cronies have put foward the idea that due process does not mean judicial process - they redefined due process to mean they had a lawyer write up a secret justification on a secret memo that explains why he says it's OK to kill citizens without charge, trial or conviction.  No need for any judge to see said memos, they too often get in the way of executive privilages. 

Sometimes the courts get it right, though.  For the Caswells, I am sure this has been a good week.

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