Carpe Diem

Institute for Justice fights to prevent the government from taking an innocent elderly couple’s Mom-and-Pop motel

An update from the Institute for Justice about one of their cases involving civil forfeiture abuse, which is about to go to trial in Boston:

Imagine you own a million-dollar piece of property free and clear, but then the federal government and local law enforcement agents announce that they are going to take it from you, not compensate you one dime, and then use the money they get from selling your land to pad their budgets—all this even though you have never so much as been accused of a crime, let alone convicted of one.”

That is the nightmare Russ Caswell and his family is now facing in Tewksbury, Mass., where they stand to lose the family-operated motel they have owned for two generations.

The most contentious civil forfeiture fight in the nation will be the subject of a week-long trial starting Monday, November 5, 2012, in Boston. Throughout the week, the Institute for Justice, which represents the property owners in the case, will expose the ugly practice of civil forfeiture—where law enforcement agencies can pad their budgets by taking property from innocent owners who have never been convicted or even charged with a crime.

MP: Watch the video above to hear Russ explain in his own words how he feels about the federal government “trying to steal his property.”

Find out more here.

49 thoughts on “Institute for Justice fights to prevent the government from taking an innocent elderly couple’s Mom-and-Pop motel

          • Get the NKVD on him right away. Expropriate his property, torture him, execute him and torture his family. I know the drill.

          • Ron, unless I’m completely mistaken, Jon is referring to a moron by the name of George Balella who comments regularly at Cafe Hayek and has darkened that blog’s door since 2006. His other names are Muirdiot, Muiron, Muirduck and Muirpocracy. He considers himself genetically superior. Basically, to make a long story short, in different circumstances and with 90 more IQ points than he has (to bring him up to the 100 IQ points that would make him of average intelligence), he would be Stalin. He has all of the natural bloodthirsty, malevolent tendencies.

          • Ah! Thanks, Methinks. Now I understand. I know exactly who you mean, and you have described him perfectly. :)

          • You forgot Muirdouche, Muirtard, and Cardinal Yasafi Torquemuirduck: Grand Inquisitor for The Church of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Chaos! :D

          • Oh, Brotio, how negligent of me! Thank you for correcting my unforgivable error.

            He still hasn’t figured out what “YASAFI” means – and I bet he corralled all the feeble brainpower in the Ballelalalala household in pursuit of an answer.

        • It all depends on ones vantage point.

          Example:
          If you lived next door to a hotel where drug deals were going down night and day and it wasn’t safe for your kids to play outside, you’d want it gone and I doubt you’d give a crap HOW or who made it gone.

          (for the record, I know your answer is “no”).

          • Because moving is not an option. And if my next door neighbour didn’t like something about me (my kids are too loud, my dog barks, my cat looks at him funny when he walks by, I planted flowers in my garden his hamster happens to be allergic to, etc.), then it’s fine to confiscate my property. And so on.

            first they came for the people smoking weed, then they rundown hotel owners, then…..

          • Moving is always an option (if you are referring to the you in my examples above), just like taking a bus, cab or train as alternatives to the $4000 flight in the previous post. It’s just a gigantic inconvenience to do so.

          • Moe, What do you think will happen to the motel if the case against the Caswells is successful? Will it be sold to a new operator? What exactly will change?

          • moe-

            i don’t see how you can justify the argument you are making.

            how always matters.

            i might find the crabgrass on your lawn unsightly, but i would never favor using eminent domain to take it from you or a napalm drop to get rid of it.

            nor would i support theft to prevent drug dealing.

            nor would anyone who believed in ethics and basic rights beyond “might makes right”.

            under what valid moral system is it ok not to care how ends are achieved?

          • I was referring to the me in your post.

            If alternative transportation weren’t an inconvenience, airline ticket prices wouldn’t jump to 10x their average price just before a hurricane.

            Similarly, if property rights and liberty are valuable, then they’re worth the inconvenience to preserve.

          • I didn’t think I was arguing, I thought I was commenting…

            First off, nobody is seizing anything at this point. That much we do know. I am not arguing it’s OK for the Government to confiscate private property, whether any ruling eventually says so or not.

            I used the example I did because the Patch comments made we wonder -does the article writer or those that live next door to the hotel have a better grasp of the reality on the ground? I’m not one to simply accept an article because it confirms or plays into a bias I may have.

          • Moe

            First off, nobody is seizing anything at this point. That much we do know. I am not arguing it’s OK for the Government to confiscate private property, whether any ruling eventually says so or not.

            Moe! that’s the whole point of the suit against the Caswells – to seize their property! There are no hints of criminal wrongdoing on their part.

          • Moe,

            I couldn’t access your link, but I found an article about it at the patch along with the colourful commentary. So, basically, the townsfolk don’t like the class of people which are the target market of for this hotel. Oh, how quickly we turn on those suffering poor we’re always using as a justification for robbing the wealthy when we find one of those vermin in our backyard.

            Of course, the reason those folks are gathering at the motel pissing off the whole town is because drugs are illegal and expensive. But never mind that; I’m sure if the police department robs these people drugs are going to disappear and the cops will be satisfied and never want to rob anyone ever again. Pretty good reason to lever the hell out of your property. When the lender comes after you, you can just tell ‘em to take it up with the new owners.

          • moe-

            and what does “the reality on the ground” have to do with anything?

            how does that justify abrogating the notion of due process?

            the whole legal theory here is absurd.

            the premise is that the hotel committed a crime. not the company that owns it, not the people who own it, not even the people in it, the actual building itself is somehow civilly liable for having been used in a crime.

            this is an outlandish notion. the hotel just sat there. if any crimes were committed, they were committed by people. inanimate objects cannot commit crimes.

            this is like suing a tree you skied into for assault.

            it’s a disgusting legal workaround to claim that the property is guilty of having been used in a crime so it is forfeit as a way to avoid having to address the rights of the owner to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and to due process.

            the only reason they even have an argument here is the 2000 congressional law that put some limited on asset seizure. however, they are still required to prove themselves innocent. the burden is on them, not the state. that is simply not how our legal system is intended to work.

          • actually, i misspoke there.

            it is not themselves they must prove innocent.

            they must prove that the hotel was innocent and was not used in the commission of a crime.

            consider the utter impossibility of that standard.

            how can you prove what went on behind the closed doors of every guest that has ever stayed at your hotel?

            it’s clearly impossible.

            you could roll down to boston and seize any office building in town this way.

            prove that no one ever used or sold drugs in prudential tower.

            no one could do such a thing. such a standard is utterly absurd.

            but that would technically be the legal standard in boston vs prudential tower.

            of course, this will not happen as PT has vast legal resources and political connections. instead, they pick on a mom and pop hotel that has far less ability to defend itself.

            hell, they could walk right into your house and claim probable cause, seize the place, and them put the onus on you to prove there was never a drug crime in your house, somehting that is nearly logically impossible. how do you prove a negative? you can’t unless you can account for every signle example that does or can exist.

            outside of math, it’s basically impossible. it’s like saying “prove there is no bigfoot”. you can’t do it. you can show that there is no evidence of bigfoot, but that is not the same as proving there isn’t one. there was no evidence of atoms once too. it did not make them not exist.

    • moe-

      why are any of those comments relevant?

      if they have not been even accused, much less convicted of a crime or even offered due process of any kind, then where can such outrages as this end?

      and just what could they have done? they cannot bug the rooms. they cannot install surveillance inside the rooms. that’s illegal.

      this standard would allow any hotel anywhere in the US to be seized.

      do you really think there are any in which illegal drugs have never been used?

      hell, the state could set them up. they do an undercover deal in a room, and bingo, they own the hotel no matter if the owners never knew. you really want to live in a country like that?

      this is arbitrary power wielded in direct contravention of the intent of the constitution and in outlandish violation of the notions of rights and due process.

  1. Whether you are for or against legalization, this is one aspect of the Drug War that has to stop. This is clearly a violation of the basic right to property and to be secure in that property!

  2. According to this Institute for Justice study, there is only one state that provides property owners Constitutional protection from civil (not criminal) law enforcement property forfeiture.

    North Carolina effectively does not provide forefeiture to law enforcement.

    • Citizen

      Actually the US Constitution provides that protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

      It there was *ever* a case of unreasonable seizure, this is it. Hopefully the Caswells and the IJ will prevail, and this will mark a turning point in the battle against the despicable practice of asset forfeiture.

      • I’m afraid you’re way off base, my friend. The only thing that qualifies as an “unreasonable seizure” is a citizen’s sudden epileptic seizure which interrupts sensitive police operations such as donut runs and shakedowns of people who look like they might have a couple of dollars in their wallets.

        The Oracles at the SCOTUS have already ruled that civil forfeiture is cool because, see, it’s the property that committed the crime. According to the oracles, an inanimate object with no free will can commit a crime. The one dissenting judge’s objection to the ruling was not that the whole idea of an inanimate object committing a crime was utterly insane but that the inanimate object with no free will committed the very small crime of housing a single joint.

        Forgive me if I put little faith in a court which includes Roberts and Sotomayor.

        • LOL

          That IS an unreasonable seizure.

          You are correct, as always, but my contention is that the SCOTUS was WRONG!!

          I know, it’s heresy.

          That’s why states and juries of our peers should be the final arbiters of such things, not the third arm – or more accurately the third finger – of the government.

          • Oh, I agree they’re wrong, but even if the court takes it up again (I don’t know if they can, I spent most of my civics class sneering at my teacher, so I didn’t learn much about the pretty lie of representative government limited by nothing more than a yellowing piece of paper), I don’t expect the court to set any new precedents in favour of liberty for fear of the unsurvivable scolding they might receive from the Dear Leader on the throne at the time.

          • I’m pretty sure the answer is “no”. If the issue is ever taken up by the Rubber Stamp Brigade, John Roberts will insist that you have free will for the purposes of doing the bidding of your political overlords at the point of their gun, but no free will for the purposes performing tasks like buying medical care, which is too important to be left to a dumbass like you.

            No, instead, you have submit to the chicken hypnotists, and drunkards in congress who admit they couldn’t understand what they’re passing even if they were literate enough to read it.

    • I bet North Carolina cops do what cops do in other states: forfeit the property to the feds and have their departments take a kickback.

  3. Ron,

    “Actually the US Constitution provides that protection against unreasonable search and seizure.”

    Yep, the Tar Heels have got it right.

    Methinks,

    “The Oracles at the SCOTUS have already ruled that civil forfeiture is cool because, see, it’s the property that committed the crime.”

    Is that for both civil and criminal or just criminal?

    • My understanding is that this line has blurred. A criminal proceeding may carry a civil component.

      in Calero-Toledo vs. Pearson Yacht Company (http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/416/663/),

      In 1971, A Puerto Rican Yacht company leased a couple of yachts on which police subsequently found one whole joint. The yacht was seized and even though the yacht company was found innocent, the SCOTUS held that the seizure was legal. The court held that the “appellee was in no way ….involved in the criminal enterprise carried on by the lessee and had no knowledge that its property was being used in connection with or in violation” of the law.

      In spite of the court’s ruling that the yacht company was innocent, the court (lead by a liberal) ruled against it holding that while the yacht company committed no crime, the yacht did by virtue of housing the joint.

      But, it gets worse. Even if you are arrested for a crime and subsequently found not guilty, the court has ruled that the property confiscated in the arrest (which not involved in any crime) does not have to be returned.

      It means that the cops can knowingly arrest innocent people merely to confiscate their property.

  4. It sounds like some of the towns folk regard the motel as a public nuisance, which of course there is long established precedent of going to court and getting the nuisance abated. As I understand it the most that can happen is that a pad lock be placed on the property. Of course this way is just faster and cheaper from a legal standpoint. But if the comments are correct then the issue is could I put an odoriferous plant next to your house, say a cattle feeding operation, and make your place uninhabitable or can you get my usage stopped.

    • Those are common issues of dealing with externalities. That’s not what’s going on here.

      The police are simply steeling the property from the property owners, not seeking a remedy for neighbours who might suffer from externalities imposed on them by the clientele of the establishment.

  5. Reviews of Motel Caswell, Tewksbury, MA

    Hookers, Drug Addicts, Drug Dealers Need I Say More?!. Dirty, Disgusting & Old! Do Not Stay Here!!!!!

    ——

    First of all Nothing was clean, there were no towells, no soap, the shower not only was shooting out in ever direction but the water was brown Yes, BROWN!!!! This place should be shut down it even has spider webs up to ying yang and little roaches and crackheads surround the whole place I would never ever recommend this motel…

    ——

    Stayed on a quiet night. No remote to the TV, which was stuck tinted green. No alarm clock, no internet, several holes in walls, decaying furniture. A solid reputation for drug and prostitution activity with regular police patrols. It was, however, really cheap.

    ——

    Lots of bug bites overnight. All rooms are placarded non-smoking, but are supplied with ashtrays, so they’re heavy with fresh smoke smell anyway. Walls are probably only as thick as the paneling you see, you can hear very well next door. Local police are often milling about, running checks on cars in the lot.

    ——

    This hotel absolutely sucks seriously!!!! Over $1000 a month for one room and one bed, the shower doesn’t work properly, the bathroom light hates to come on and there was cigarette burns all over the sheets and blankets (thank god we had our own)…

      • it also sends a message to every citizen in the community –

        you are not entitled to due process if a totalitarian state decides it wants to seize your property.

        mere suspicion and accusation is enough.

      • So Peak, what you are saying is it is ok for the gov’t to take your property without due process if some people on the Internet say bad things about you?

  6. I found a big leafy cannabis plant right next to the railroad tracks the other day. Does that mean the city can confiscate the trackage or maybe even the whole railroad?

    • Chuck, I’ll answer your question and also Morganovich and Jon, who both have their head in the sand or worse, simultaneously.

      There’s a long history of criminal activity on the property, while the community has been tolerant.

      You should be angry at the motel owner. His extreme disregard, over two decades, may ruin it for other slum lords.

      I agree, this case should’ve never went to court. A slum lord should know his limitations, to paraphrase Clint Eastwood.

      Thanks for your cooperation.

      • I hardly consider reviews on the Internet has criminal evidence.

        Regardless, due process is not being followed. If there is evidence that Russ Caswell knew he was renting to drug dealers and that he knew they were using his motel for these transactions, then let him be arrested and put on trial. After he is convicted, then and only then, should the property be seized. As it is, he has not been convicted let alone arrested of any crime.

        I hardly think asking for due process of law to be followed is sticking my head in the sand.

        • There used to be justice in this country. A man, when accused of a crime, could face his accusers and defend himself and his property in a fair and open trial. Not any more. Rather than convict a man, they just convict his property. What justice is that? How can any society claim to be just when, rather than give a man the rightful chance to defend himself, they take the rug from beneath his feet?

          If any other country did this, we’d be screaming bloody murder. But when our own does it, there is silence. What’s the defense? “He was a bad man.” THAN PROVE IT! Is that too much to ask?

        • Jon, you know what your “due process” will get you? Confiscated property. The SCOTUS has upheld the right of the police to confiscate property even if the owners of the property are innocent.

          Welcome to America.

  7. Evidently this is a wanted property that is wanted by some big company. Hopefully it is not Walgreen. This is probably a cover-up for claiming. As to say the motel was a harbor for drug dealers the city is biting themselves in the a$$. Isn’t it easier to catch dealers when they are in a confined place than when they are scattered. DUH! If they knew drug dealing was going on there why not arrest them. Closing the motel will not stop the drug dealing only either move it or scatter it. Undoubtedly the drug dealing moved to the motel rather than away from it. Where were the city officials when they should have stopped this growth?

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