The Wall Street Journal’s John R. Emshwiller, Gary Fields and Jennifer Levitz had a terrific story in yesterday’s paper about people fighting back over federal forfeitures in drug cases.
No, not the dealers. But people like Russell Caswell, a Massachusetts man who could lose his motel because of crimes allegedly committed there.
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.”
An accompanying graphic shows that Montana is among a handful of states around the country where such seizures are decreasing.