Do You Think that the Motel Caswell Should be Forfeited?

Motel Caswell of Tewksbury, MA

The Motel Caswell is currently involved in federal litigation due to a process known as “civil forfeiture,” in which property can be taken regardless of whether an owner has committed a crime. This is known as forfeiture in rem, where the crime is being charged against a place, not a person. The government, in conjunction with the Tewksbury Police Department, had found that the Motel Caswell was the site of 7 major drug investigations and arrests from 2001–2008. In addition, the police claimed there were an estimated 100 drug investigations conducted on the property.
Civil forfeiture does not require the state or federal government to compensate the owner in any way for the forfeiture. The police department responsible for initiating the forfeiture, in fact, would receive up to 80% of the proceeds at auction, which would be added to their department’s budget to aid in the prevention of future drug-related crimes. The Motel Caswell has no mortgage and is valued at over $1.8M as of 2009, when the process was started. The only recourse for the owners would be to prove that they are “innocent” of any knowledge of the crimes. The innocent owner clause, which is part of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, states that owners are required to prove that they “did all that reasonably could be expected under the circumstances to terminate such use of the property,” in regards to any crimes that may have occurred on the premises. Congress passed CAFRA after hearing a similar case in which the government attempted to seize the Red Carpet Inn of Houston, TX from its owners, even though the hotel staff had gone to lengths to notify the local police of illegal activity in order to allow them to take preventive action.
The Institute for Justice is representing the Motel Caswell, challenging the seizure as unconstitutional on the basis of the 8th and 10th Amendments. Attorneys Scott Bullock and Larry Salzman argued that the forfeiture of the motel would constitute an excessive fine (8th Amendment) because it would deprive the owners of their livelihood, and it is also circumventing state law (10th Amendment) because MA forfeiture law would not have allowed for such a seizure. Judge Dein recently announced her decision on the preliminary hearing to dismiss the civil forfeiture action taken by the Tewksbury Police Department. “U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein yesterday denied on procedural grounds a motion by motel owner Russ Caswell of Tewksbury, Mass., to have the federal case dismissed, clearing the way for a full trial,” according to an article on the Institute for Justice website, published last week.
A more in-depth post on the judge’s recent decision will be posted here later this week. Check back soon.
By Watching the Watchers Posted in News

One comment on “Do You Think that the Motel Caswell Should be Forfeited?

  1. Are Police Asset Forfeiture Squads Out of Control?

    Like a spreading plague, media reports of Police using Civil Asset Forfeiture to seize property from innocent owners is frightening off buyers of motels, bars, restaurants; residential rental property. Investors and property owners increasingly believe they are sitting ducks for police to confiscate their property. Many investors have noted the
    publicized civil forfeiture of Motel Caswell by Federal & Local Law Enforcement Agencies from the Caswell family that owned and operated the motel for two generations. The Caswells cooperated with police to abate infrequent drug problems at their motel caused by guests. The family Motel was free and clear and perhaps provided a police target for asset forfeiture. See: “United States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Mass.”

    Bars, restaurant and rental property owners Increasingly fear police; strongly believe that police can make it a point—to shut down or seize any bar, restaurant, motel or residential rental property by arresting a customer or tenant unbeknownst to the owner—possessing
    or distributing drugs; or undercover police / informants can steer drug sales or buys onto private property to forfeit it. Some owners of bars, restaurants and rental property become police informants, report on their customers—in the erroneous belief police won’t target their business or property. There are more than 350 laws and violations that can subject property to government asset forfeiture. Government civil asset forfeiture requires only a civil preponderance of evidence for police to forfeit property, little more than hearsay. No one need be charged with a crime. Corrupt Police can create the hearsay. If police civil forfeiture abuse is not brought under control it is foreseeable many Americans will be afraid to own real and personal property that comes in contact with the public.

    It is understandable that more business and rental property owners fear police. Almost every week, national news reports police, including high-ranking police and sheriffs being arrested for selling drugs, robbing, extorting or protecting drug dealers, planting evidence; filing false reports to send innocent persons to prison.
    Next: Police Drones—Recording Conversations In Your Home & Business To Forfeit Property?

    Police are salivating at the prospect of having drones to spy on lawful citizens. Congress approved 30,000 drones in U.S. Skies. That amounts to 600 drones for every state.

    It is problematic local police will want to use drones to record without warrants, personal conversations inside Americans’ homes and businesses.

    Despite some U.S. cities and counties banning or restricting police using drones to invade citizens’ privacy, local police have a strong financial incentive to call in Federal Drones, (Civil Asset Forfeiture Sharing) that can result from drone surveillance). Should (no-warrant drone surveillance evidence) be allowed in courts—circumventing the Fourth
    Amendment, for example (drones’ recording conversations in private homes and businesses) expect federal and local police civil asset property forfeitures to escalate.

    Civil asset forfeiture requires only a preponderance of civil evidence for federal government to forfeit property, little more than hearsay: any conversation picked up by a drone inside a home or business, police can take out of context to initiate arrests; or civil asset forfeiture to confiscate a home/business and other assets. Local police now circumvent state laws that require someone be convicted before police can civilly forfeit their property—by turning their investigation over to a Federal Government Agency that can rebate to the referring local police department 80% of assets forfeited. Federal Government is not required to charge anyone with a crime to forfeit property. There are more than 350 laws and violations that can subject property to government asset forfeiture that have nothing to do with illegal drugs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s