Behind the Scenes of the Caswell Forfeiture Victory
Last January, a federal court in Massachusetts dismissed a civil forfeiture action against the Motel Caswell, a family-run motel in Tewksbury, handing a complete victory to owners Russell and Patricia Caswell.
In one of the most contentious civil forfeiture fights in the nation, Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts concluded, based on a week-long bench trial in November 2012, that the motel was not subject to forfeiture under federal law and that its owners were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing.
The Institute for Justice and local counsel Schlossberg, LLC, brought the case to trial to expose the injustices of civil forfeiture laws that allow law enforcement agencies to pad their budgets by taking property from innocent owners who have never been convicted or even charged with a crime.
"This is a complete victory for the Caswell family and for the protection of private property rights," said Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. "The Caswells will keep their motel, and private property rights are preserved."
The government had sought to take the Motel Caswell from the Caswell family under the theory that the motel allegedly facilitated drug crimes. But the court found that Mr. Caswell "did not know the guests involved in the drug crimes, did not know of their anticipated criminal behavior at the time they registered as guests, and did not know of the drug crimes while they were occurring."
"This outrageous forfeiture action should never have been filed in the first place," said Larry Salzman, an IJ attorney. "What the government did amounted to little more than a grab for what they saw as quick cash under the guise of civil forfeiture."
Caswell said, "I couldn't have fought this fight without the help of the Institute for Justice. It is hard to believe anything like this goes on in our country, but the government goes after people they think can't afford to fight. But with IJ's help, we put up a heck of a fight and have won. The public needs to stand up against these abuses of power."
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