U.S. Supreme Court OK's Appeal in Drug Forfeiture Case
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled December 14 that aggrieved parties have the right to appeal seizures by federal authorities of property allegedly obtained from or used to facilitate drug trafficking (Craig Fischer, "Supreme Court Allows Appeal in Drug Assets Forfeiture Case," Drug Enforcement Report, 12/23/92, p. 3).
The case, Republic National Bank of Miami v. U.S., 113 S.Ct. 554, involved a Miami home seized by U.S. Marshals in 1988. After the government sold the house, mortgage holder Republic National Bank filed a claim based on an "innocent owner" defense. A U.S. District Court rejected the claim. The case was appealed.
In the prevailing Supreme Court decision, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote: "... [W]here the government has the power to confiscate private property on a showing of mere probable cause, the right to appeal is a crucial safeguard against abuse. ... "
The forfeiture sparked a heated editorial in the Paducah Sun of Kentucky, charging the government with assuming the character of a police state in its zeal to prosecute the drug war (Editorial, "Drug Forfeiture Law Applied Too Harshly," The Paducah Sun, 12/24/92, 4A).
"The United States government most resembles a police state in its free-wheeling confiscation of private property related to drug activity," the editorial said. "The nightmarish experience of a Livingston County resident, a wounded veteran of the Vietnam War, provides a vivid illustration."
The editorial did not condemn use of forfeiture in drug cases, but concluded that it should "be used on major importers and traffickers who have accumulated lavish wealth, not minor offenders or land-owners who happen to be victims of chance."