Governments Permanently Punish People for Old Crimes
When the government judges someone’s integrity, it should do so based ...
When the government judges someone’s integrity, it should do so based on who they are today—not who they were 20 years ago. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), however, ...imposes a permanent ban from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on food retailers who have committed any offense related to alcohol, drugs, or firearms.
Altimont Mark Wilks is one of the many entrepreneurs impacted by the USDA’s lifetime ban. Altimont served time in prison after he was arrested for dealing drugs back in 2004. By the time he came home, he was in his late 40s and wanted a fresh start. His mother, Carmen, helped him get back on his feet and fulfill his dream of owning his own business. Altimont opened a community-focused convenience store by his home in Hagerstown, Maryland, with the goal of providing affordable food to the people in his neighborhood. He named it Carmen’s Corner Store to honor his mother’s commitment and generosity.
More than one in every five households near Altimont’s Hagerstown store depends on SNAP benefits to buy their groceries. As Altimont would soon learn, though, the USDA prohibits lots of business owners with a criminal record from accepting SNAP benefits at their stores. But the USDA doesn’t just punish crimes like fraud or business-related offenses that might suggest that an owner could steal from SNAP. For some unknown reason, the USDA reserves its harshest punishment for business owners who’ve previously committed offenses related to alcohol, drugs, or firearms.
That policy prevents Altimont from ever accepting SNAP benefits at his store—something that makes it difficult for his business to compete in the market and effectively serve his community. There’s nothing Altimont could ever do in his lifetime that would convince the USDA that he is more than the mistakes he made two decades ago.
But Altimont is undeterred. With growing community support for Carmen’s Corner Store, Altimont opened a second location in Frederick, Maryland. He once again applied to be a SNAP retailer, and the USDA once again imposed a permanent ban on his new store.
This time, Altimont was ready. He teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a lawsuit challenging the USDA’s permanent ban in federal court. The government cannot exclude businesses from its programs for irrational reasons. Permanently banning Altimont from being a SNAP retailer doesn’t make sense—it just deprives people in his community of access to affordable groceries, which defeats the entire purpose of SNAP. That’s why Altimont and IJ are asking the court to rule that the USDA’s permanent ban is invalid. A victory will vindicate the simple truth that old and irrelevant criminal convictions should not prevent anyone from getting a fresh start.[+] Show More
SWAT Destroys Business During Standoff, Refuses to Pay
For thirty years, Carlos Pena ran a print shop in North Hollywood. His ...
For thirty years, Carlos Pena ran a print shop in North Hollywood. His world was turned upside down, however, in August 2022, when a fugitive forced his way into Carlos’s ...shop and barricaded himself inside. After a prolonged standoff, the City of Los Angeles’s SWAT team stormed the shop, launching dozens of grenades that tore through the walls, windows, and ceilings, destroying most of Carlos’s expensive printing equipment. In total, the damage from the assault alone exceeded $60,000.
Carlos’s insurance—as is common—does not cover destruction committed by the government. Meanwhile, Carlos couldn’t afford to repair his shop and replace his equipment. He twice requested compensation from the City, which ignored his pleas. Unable to re-open his shop, Carlos has lost out on tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. Carlos had hoped to pass the business on to his son; now, he can hardly afford to pay his own bills.
This is not merely unfair; it’s unconstitutional. When the government deliberately destroys an innocent person’s property for some public benefit, it must pay for it. In this case, the City’s officers determined that the public benefit of apprehending a fugitive outweighed the costs of destroying Carlos’s shop. That was their decision to make, but, under the United States Constitution, they must pay for it.[+] Show More
David Sosas Band Together to Defend David Sosa
[Dash Cam] Illegal Traffic Stop in Texas
If the Fourth Amendment means anything, it’s that police can’t just ...
If the Fourth Amendment means anything, it’s that police can’t just pull you over, interrogate you, and ransack your car without a good reason to suspect you of a crime. ...But that’s exactly what happened to Alek Schott in 2022.
Railroad Attempts To Take Families’ Property Using Eminent Domain
A group of Sparta, Georgia, property owners announced they have teamed ...
A group of Sparta, Georgia, property owners announced they have teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to challenge a private railroad’s attempt to take their land for a ...rail spur that would benefit a private business. IJ will represent Don and Sally Garrett, Blaine and Diane Smith, and Marvin and Pat Smith in a legal proceeding before the Georgia Public Service Commission against Sandersville Railroad’s attempt to use eminent domain to condemn and take their land.
In March 2023, Sandersville filed a petition with the Georgia Public Service Commission to obtain the authority to condemn the land owned by the Garretts and the Smiths to build a rail spur to haul materials used for making concrete out of the Hanson Quarry, owned by Heidelberg Materials. The taking of the land—which would require parcels from some 18 properties nearby—would serve no public interest. It would simply allow Heidelberg to export materials via train instead of trucks.
“Taking people’s private land and handing it over to a private company for the benefit of a private business isn’t just wrong, it’s unconstitutional and against Georgia law,” said IJ Senior Attorney Bill Maurer. “The power to use eminent domain is limited to public uses and the public is not going to use this railroad—a private business is. Neither the Constitution nor Georgia statutes permit this kind of abuse of the eminent domain power.”
Sandersville Railroad is a powerful business with political connections. Meanwhile, the landowners in rural Sparta are fighting to save properties that have been in their respective families for generations. The Garrett family, for example, has owned the land since the 1800s.
“This is more than just land to our family – it’s where we’ve shared memories and built a life for ourselves for generations,” said Don. “We’re not going to let Sandersville just go in and take it from us.”
As for the Smiths, Marvin and Blaine’s great grandmother was born a slave on the property, which was then a cotton plantation. In the 1920s, their grandfather and grandmother were able to obtain part of the land as their own. They farmed the land, and always told their children to hold onto it—and they have. The property has been in the Smith family ever since.
While the Smiths now live in Maryland, they routinely come back to visit the house they grew up in and they plan to continue keeping this land in their family for future generations.
“Our family has owned this land for 100 years, and we plan to continue owning it for generations to come,” said Blaine. “We refuse to let a private company come take the land that we hope to leave for our children and our children’s children.”
“It’s clear to anyone that Sandersville’s attempt to take land from the Garretts and Smiths serves no legitimate public interest,” said IJ Litigation Fellow Betsy Sanz. “We look forward to standing up for these property owners in their fight against this unconstitutional land grab.”
The Institute for Justice (IJ) is the national expert on defending property owners against eminent domain abuse and other property rights violations. It represents the property owners in Sparta whose land would be seized by this eminent domain taking. Those property owners include Don and Sally Garrett, Blaine and Diane Smith, and Marvin and Pat Smith.[+] Show More
Un-Bear-Able Privacy Invasion by CT Officials
Gov’t Caught Stealing Game Camera to Spy on Owner
Josh Highlander’s son is afraid of the boogeyman. While playing with ...
Josh Highlander’s son is afraid of the boogeyman. While playing with his mother in the yard, their basketball rolled toward the woods. She was shocked to see a figure standing ...in their woods wearing a camouflage “leafy jacket.” She quickly brought her son back in the house and alerted Josh.
By the time Josh came out, the stranger was nowhere to be seen. But Josh soon discovered that a camera he used to monitor game on his property was missing. He called police to report the theft. They responded that the camera was in the possession of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). In the weeks following, Josh did not receive a warrant nor was he given any hunting citations. Josh’s son was afraid to go outside alone for weeks afterward and continues to talk about the scary man in the woods.
Josh is an avid hunter and has grown a food plot on his property to attract game. Growing food plots isn’t just legal, it’s encouraged on the DWR’s own website. The camera was posted on a pole in the middle of the plot, which is about 100 yards through the woods from the house.
The 30 acres Josh owns outside Richmond is private land. When he built his home a few years ago, he purchased and posted more than 100 “private property” signs so that he could make that clear.
Virginia is one of many states where government officials conduct warrantless searches of “open fields” under a century-old U.S. Supreme Court precedent. That precedent leaves most private property in the U.S. unprotected by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
But the DWR did more than just trespass on his property and observe his family. It took Josh’s camera in order to spy on him. Now, Josh and the Institute for Justice are suing in state court to get his camera back, to protect his home, and to restore the right of all Virginians to be secure on their land. Whatever the U.S. Supreme Court may have said about the Fourth Amendment, the Virginia Constitution does not tolerate these kinds of warrantless intrusions.