A comedic take on forfeiture

John Oliver on Asset Forfeiture (click for the video)

It is a relatively long video, but if you don’t know about civil forfeiture, its informative and entertaining. If you do know about civil forfeiture, then you know that its a tough issue, it needs to be ended, and this video will only increase your concerns about civil forfeiture.

 

If you have a current asset forfeiture issue, please do not walk away from your asset. It is difficult, but with the right attorney, its not impossible to win an asset forfeiture case.

Aiding and Abetting

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a long needed update ot the law of aiding and abetting. Justice Kagan gave us an opinion in Rosemund v. United States, No. 12-895, — U.S. —, analyzing in depth, how to evaluate whether an individual was aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime. Not only that, but Justice Kagan penned the opinion with a degree of panache that perhaps the Hon. Learned Hand could appreciate. In this split decision case, Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsberg, Breyer and Sotomeyer joined the opinion.

The facts of the case make for a comedy, or at least an episode of “Weeds.” Vashti Perez found herself in possession of one pound of marijuana, and determined she’d like to sell it to an individual at a local park. She got two friends, Ronald Joseph and petitioner Justus Rosemund, and they drove to the park. The buyer got into the back seat of the car, where the passenger showed him the marijuana. Rather than handing over the money, the buyer punched the passenger in the face, got out of the car, and ran away. At this point one of the male passenger, and Kagan notes “it is disputed which one,” pulled out a weapon and began firing. The buyer escaped, and the three “would be drug dealers” were arrested. All were charged with not just drug trafficking, but also using a gun in connection with the drug trafficking, violating §924(c), and resulting in a five year mandatory minimum sentence. Rosemund alleged that Joseph in fact had the gun, and that he had no idea the gun would be brought to the transaction.

It is a recognized principle of criminal law that individuals who help other individuals commit crimes, are equally guilty of the crime; this is aiding and abetting liability. This case carries two crimes, not wholly independent of each other. The first, the drug transaction, and the second, bringing a gun to the drug transaction. Formerly, “the quality of assistance was immaterial, so long as the accomplice did something to aid the crime.” In that situation Rosemund could be guilty of aiding in both crimes, if he knew only of the gun, or only of the drugs. The court instead states that aiding and abetting begins at the point when the individual discovers the information and can opt out of the crime. That is, when the individual learns of the gun, he becomes an aider or abettor, because he has chosen, with full knowledge, to participate in that illegal scheme.

The new rule (or revised rule) is that a jury must determine when an individual had knowledge of the crime, and whether at that point he or she opted out, or whether they assisted in committing the crime. This does not look to elements of the crime, it looks to knowledge.

How Prison Sentences Have Changed Criminals

I’ve run into it before, and I’ve commented on it many times: the sentencing guidelines and the multitude of crimes have created a place where even the most minor crime can easily mean jail time. There’s a nice essay over at The Atlantic where a first hand story shows how much has changed in the past twenty years- and how wrong those changes are.

Thanks to mandatory minimums and aggravating factors, a young convicted person can quickly face spending their lives locked up. If this is where a “tough on crime” stance has gotten us, maybe its time we took another look at how tough we need to be?

(And this doesn’t even begin to address how the Adam Walsh Act is about to take effect and ruin young criminals lives even if they don’t get jail time. Stay tuned for an overview of that one).