If you believe in liberty, that is.
This lawsuit was brought by the United States. It was trying to seize Motel Caswell, a family owned and run budget motel located in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. The property was worth over a million dollars. The Department of Justice and the Tewksbury police department would have split the proceeds from the motel’s seizure and sale. (See my previous post.) Fortunately, the judge denied their claim.
The Caswells had not been accused of any crime, but under U.S. civil forfeiture law they had to prove that they were not passively or actively allowing their property to be used as a drug den (so much for innocent until proven guilty). In order to seize the property, the government had to show that “the defendant property was intended to be used in a drug crime punishable by a year’s imprisonment.”
What is amazing about the case is that the judge repeatedly notes that the government’s claims about Mr. Caswell’s behavior were made up. The government repeatedly slimed Mr. Caswell’s behavior and character without any evidence to support its claims.
Here are some examples from the decision:
1. The government claimed that Mr. Caswell was so unconcerned about the illegal activities occurring at his motel that he “couldn’t even bother to drive the one mile down to the police station to meet with the police when expressly invited.”
The judge wrote that this claim “was not supported by a scintilla of evidence.” In fact, the meeting was announced by a form letter sent to area hotel Managers/Owners. It was intended to inform the local hospitality industry about an “increased amount of Motor Vehicle thefts.” The Caswells, like the other motels in the area, sent a representative to the meeting.
2. The government claimed that Mr. Caswell “doesn’t even care enough to clean up one of the motel rooms after a meth lab was there. In fact, Mr. Caswell has [sic] to be told twice before he had the room, which was filled with chemicals feet away from his family’s home, cleaned.” [The Caswells live in a home next to the motel.]
The judge found that “there is no record of support for this claim,” and that “the Government’s expressed disdain is not justified on the record evidence” which showed that Mr. Caswell hired a firm that specialized in cleanup and had the room air tested twice. The guest who ran the supposed meth lab had rented the room for a total of two days.
3. The judge found that “it is rather remarkable for the Government to argue in this case that the property owner should lose his property for failure to undertake some undefined steps in an effort to prevent crime, while putting on evidence that the police drove through the property routinely, knew the property owner’s identity and that he lived next door to the motel, and never contacted him in an effort to work together to control crime at the property…Having failed to notify Mr. Caswell that he had a significant problem, and having failed to take any steps to advise him on what to do, the government’s resolution of the crime problem should not be to simply take his property.
4. In a footnote, the judge states that “Since the only remedial purpose the forfeiture of the Motel Caswell would serve would be to fund Government programs, this court finds that forfeiture would not be consistent with the spirit of the forfeiture laws.”