Feds Increase Seizure of Property from Those Who Have Not Been Convicted of a Crime

CaswellMotelOwner2011-11-10.jpg“Mr. Caswell, here in the motel’s lobby, is not accused of any wrongdoing but stands to lose his business under a law that calls for the forfeiture of properties linked to crimes.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) TEWKSBURY, Mass.–The $57-a-night Motel Caswell, magnet for hard-luck cases, police patrol cars and the occasional drug deal, is the unlikely prize in a high-stakes tug-of-war between conservative legal activists and the government.

The motel’s owner, spurred by a recent Supreme Court decision, is trying to convince a federal court that the Constitution bars the U.S. Department of Justice from seizing his property, where guests have been found guilty of drug offenses. The owner, Russell Caswell, isn’t accused of any wrongdoing. But he stands to lose his business nonetheless under a law that calls for the forfeiture of properties linked to
Mr. Caswell’s federal court case challenges the U.S. government’s ballooning asset-forfeiture system that in more than 15,000 cases last year confiscated cash, cars, boats and real estate valued at $2.5 billion. While many asset forfeitures are tied to convictions, the federal government can seize properties stained by crime even if owners face no charges.
“People shouldn’t lose their property if they haven’t been convicted of any crime,” said Scott Bullock, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm in Arlington, Va., that has joined in the motel’s defense. “Mr. Caswell hasn’t even been accused.”
(p. A14) Civil rights groups, libertarians and attorneys defending against seizures say the government is overstepping its bounds in a practice that has swelled in the past decade to encompass some 400 federal statutes, covering crimes from drug trafficking to racketeering to halibut poaching.

For the full story, see:
JOHN R. EMSHWILLER, GARY FIELDS and JENNIFER LEVITZ. “Motel Is Latest Stopover in Federal Forfeiture Battle.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., OCTOBER 18, 2011): A1 & A14.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.