Edit: Thanks everyone! This has been a blast. Have to sign off now to write the complaint for my next case. (Coming soon.)

My short bio:

Hi, I'm an attorney at the Institute for Justice--a group famously described as a "merry band of libertarian litigators." At IJ, we fight government abuse across the country.

In my latest case, I'm representing a woman who's fighting to keep the City of Albuquerque from taking her car using a process called civil forfeiture--a legal mechanism that allows law enforcement to seize and sell property without charging the owner with a crime. New Mexico passed a law abolishing civil forfeiture just last year, but law enforcement in Albuquerque are flagrantly disregarding the law and continue to seize and sell hundreds of cars each year.

Here’s more background on the case: http://ij.org/case/albuquerque-civil-forfeiture/#backgrounder

Plus links to the posts that made the front page:

https://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/50i25f/new_mexico_passed_a_law_ending_civil_forfeiture/

https://www.reddit.com/r/news/comments/50muk7/woman_sues_albuquerque_for_seizing_car_despite/

My Proof:

http://imgur.com/a/ejmnk

https://twitter.com/FreeRangeLawyer/status/775722074014937088

Comments: 746 • Responses: 58  • Date: 

mori_kopel588 karma

The Albuquerque Police appear to have gone rogue by flagrantly ignorning state law. Is there any prospect that they would also simply ignore a court order to stop such forfeitures?

FreeRangeLawyer528 karma

Perhaps! The ordinance was actually declared unconstitutional years ago, and the City just kept on taking cars on the theory that it was a trial court decision and only bound the City in the one case where it was entered. Eventually the City made some narrow changes to the law to "fix" the problem identified by that decision (without really addressing the underlying issues) and kept on doing what it's doing.

But rest assured we plan to keep fighting until we've shut this program down. If the City doesn't follow a decision, there are things we can do to make sure they come around. One way or another this does have to end.

Bburrito89 karma

Does that theory actually hold water in typical situations? That a trial court decision does not set any precedent for other cases?

Or in other words... was that theory challenged?

I guess I see Albuquerque sheriffs described as being "rogue" or "outlaws" that choose which laws they defend. And things like ignoring precedents as evidence of that.

Is that actually going on here or do they actually have a leg to stand on in their arguments?

FreeRangeLawyer211 karma

Let me put it this way: They're definitely not going out of their way to follow the law. The common thread running through the city's view of the law is that they want to maximize their ability to take property from innocent people -- even if that requires some "creative" legal thinking. And that's hardly surprising given civil forfeiture is how they fund their budget.

greyk47221 karma

What you do is a great service for the American people, thank you!

I'm from TN and remember John Oliver doing a big piece about our state's civil forfeiture. Please fix my home state next!

Just kidding, but how do you decide cases to pursue? Do you wait to represent a civilian challenging the state? Or do you ever look at law books and find something unconstitutional and just fight that law in court?

What symbol of state oppression will you dismantle next?

FreeRangeLawyer156 karma

There actually have been some reform proposals in Tennessee, which would require law enforcement to provide greater transparency on their use of civil forfeiture: http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2016/03/31/house-approves-bill-requiring-civil-asset-forfeiture-reports/82482058/

Of course transparency isn't a fix, but it is a start. It's amazing how little information is available in some states. If we don't know the scope of the problem it's harder to convince people to fix it!

In terms of cases, we pretty much always need a client who is an ordinary person affected by the law. (Otherwise courts will throw you out saying you lack "standing" to bring the case.) Plus aside from the legalities of it, it's a lot easier to explain the injustice of a law when you have a client who puts a human face on the issue. Sometimes our clients seek us out, and sometimes we find our clients. In the case I'm litigating in New Mexico, I was looking for a client and made phone calls to people who were fighting their forfeiture cases without any help from a lawyer. My client was doggedly resisting the City's efforts to take her car even before I came on the scene and offered to help.

JediLibrarian97 karma

Do municipalities such as Albuquerque ever name invaluable inanimate objects as defendents? Or only things they can sell for a tidy revenue? Has there ever been a case like City of Albuquerque vs. Rock that smashed a window or City of Albuquerque vs. Cigarette lighter used for arson?

What is the least valuable thing the city has seized and named as a defendant?

FreeRangeLawyer192 karma

Hah! No, I've never seen a civil forfeiture case trying to take worthless property. This is ultimately all about the money: If the property isn't valuable, there's no incentive for the government to take it. (Except maybe if the property is contraband -- drugs, guns, etc. -- but that's an entirely different subject.)

Though, relatedly, the government does often take stuff that is valuable and worth taking but not so valuable that it would be worthwhile to pay a lawyer to get it back. Lots of the cars seized by the city are worth no more than a couple thousand. Or, nationally, we see tons of roadside seizures of cash in amounts of $5,000 or less. Just to get your money back is going to cost you $5,000 in legal fees, so people are forced to give up without a fight. Mostly for that reason, civil forfeiture cases rarely go to court. (Part of what's fun about being at IJ is seeing the surprise of government attorneys when somebody actually fights back.)

Derpetite96 karma

How did you get into doing what you're doing?

FreeRangeLawyer193 karma

Good question! It's more a series of decisions than a single thing that I can point to. I've been a libertarian all my life -- mostly because I don't like being told what to do and don't like seeing other people told what to do. In college I actually studied english literature, with an anthropology minor, but when I graduated I wanted to do something a bit less bookish and more engaged with the world. Law seemed like a good middle ground; still intellectually interesting but outside of the library. I sometimes describe law as "applied philosophy," and that's exactly what attracted me to it.

After law school, I spent two years working with federal judges (Alex Kozinski, out in California, and Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court) and then three years at a big law firm. I liked the law firm I worked at, but the big law life wasn't for me. I wanted something where I felt passionate about what I was waking up to do every day. I'd been following IJ's work for a long time--and had worked there during law school--and it was just a natural place for me to pursue my passions.

Phenom10x47 karma

Are you ever scared the police will come after you?

FreeRangeLawyer100 karma

Nah, that would just make them look bad.

dan_doomhammer33 karma

Since when have police cared about looking bad? They flagrantly break the law in this country and rarely face repercussions for their actions beyond paid vacations.

FreeRangeLawyer180 karma

What I mean is, for better or worse, law enforcement brutality isn't an issue that directly affects people who (1) have law degrees and (2) have the ability to tell their story in the media. Lots of the crappiest stuff that goes on in the world happens outside the light of legal and media scrutiny. Part of what we're doing at IJ is shining a light into parts of the world that don't normally benefit from that kind of scrutiny.

doobie_doobie_do72 karma

When was CAF instituted as law? How was this found as a fair and due process of law? What other laws should the public be more aware and force a change in legislation?
Thanks for standing up for private property and the overreach of govt powers

FreeRangeLawyer162 karma

Big picture, civil forfeiture's origin story is all about the drug war. Its origins trace back much further, to admiralty law (the law of boats), but it really took off in its modern form in the 1980s with the WOD. The idea -- which I'm sure seemed reasonable at the time -- was to give law enforcement a financial incentive to take money from drug kingpins by allowing law enforcement to keep the money to fund their budgets. There's a certain logic to it: If you want police to do their job, give them a financial incentive to do it.

Of course, the problem we see is that there's a clear mis-match between the behavior lawmakers wanted to incentivize (going after cirminals) and the behavior that civil forfeiture actually incentivizes (going after the easiest, fattest financial targets). What we see in practice is that the financial incentive created by civil forfeiture gives police motive and means to take money from innocent people. Not good.

Courts bent over backwards to uphold all this because of the whole war on drugs & tough on crime context, but as we see how it plays out in the real world I think they're starting to change their mind.

As for other laws - profit-motivated ticketing is a close cousin of civil forfeiture that needs more attention. Some towns fund their entire budget imposing bogus fines and fees (see: http://ij.org/case/pagedale-municipal-fines/).

imakenosensetopeople65 karma

Thank you for doing what you do. This process needs to stop.

Why do you think there is not more outcry from the voters to end CAF? It's good to have organizations like yours fighting it in court, but really if the voters turned this into an issue then the mayor and city council would waste no time ensuring that such CAF would never take place in Albuquerque.

FreeRangeLawyer88 karma

Thanks! That's an interesting question about voters. On the one hand, there is a growing outcry about this issue. We're constantly working to get the word out there, and the media is doing a good job picking up the story. (That John Oliver piece probably did more than anything to raise awareness of the problem.) We ran an opinion poll in New Mexico and found that over 80% of New Mexicans agree no one should have their property taken without being convicted of a crime.

At the same time, though, voter outrage can only do so much. People vote on a range of issues, and politicians can sometimes get away with ignoring the voters on an issue here or there. The reality with civil forfeiture is that law enforcement is a powerful lobbying force in most states, and law enforcement has been strongly opposed to civil forfeiture reform. That's been enough to tank a number of reform efforts.

Ultimately that's why we need the courts. Democracy is great, but sometimes even democracies violate peoples' rights. The role of courts is to step in and protect individuals from their governments.

egportal200217 karma

Also, I suspect that people/voters need CAF to hit closer to home (i.e. to them or their immediate family) before they are motivated to get involved.

The seizure of cars involved in drunk driving arrests was a surprise to me. Have any CAF cases been pursued based on underlying misdemeanors yet?

FreeRangeLawyer32 karma

Out of sight out of mind. Honestly though this is an issue that can strike practically anyone. I've represented upstanding business owners who never in a million years thought they would have issues with government taking their property. What's needed is to continue keeping the issue in the news so people understand what's going on.

No misdemeanors that I'm aware of, but definitely bogus laws -- I've seen government take peoples' entire bank accounts because they "evaded bank reporting requirements" by depositing cash in the wrong amounts. For instance: http://ij.org/case/north-carolina-forfeiture/

MarthaGail59 karma

What is their justification for seizing the assets and reselling them?

FreeRangeLawyer156 karma

With civil forfeiture, the government's justification is that the property itself is a guilty of a crime. That may sound crazy -- how can a car be "guilty"? -- but we're dealing with some crazy stuff. The case here is literally titled City of Albuquerque v. One 2014 Nissan 4DR Silver, meaning my client's inanimate automobile is the "defendant" in the case.

Here, the city claims the car is "guilty" because my client's son drove the car under the influence of alcohol. Of course if he did that, he should be punished. Nobody is condoning drinking and driving! But the question is why my client should be punished for something she didn't do.

This is a pretty common scenario in Albuquerque. Fully half the vehicle forfeiture cases pursued by the City every year involve cars that are owned by somebody other than the alleged drunk driver.

Incognito_Whale62 karma

By that logic then, could the city seize a house if teenagers were underage drinking inside or if domestic violence occurred inside?

FreeRangeLawyer100 karma

I think no_treason_6 covered this one. That's not too far from cases we've actually seen -- including a case in Philly where the city tried to forfeit a house because the owners' kid sold $40 worth of drugs.

Astthengach16 karma

https://youtu.be/3kEpZWGgJks

A very good explanation.

FreeRangeLawyer12 karma

Yes!

rcwhiteky50 karma

What state has the worst laws in place that are overly harsh to it's residents?

FreeRangeLawyer85 karma

Honestly, so many of them are bad it's not really a fair question. We did a study ranking the states' civil forfeiture laws and assigning them grades. Only 14 states and D.C. got grades of C or better. The majority failed.

J_Tarasovic31 karma

Link?

Edit: also, thank you for the AMA and for the work you do.

TakeAChance2344 karma

I remember a case from not too long ago in my home state, Illinois, where a couple was pulled over a couple driving to Utah to see a specialists for a medical issue. The cop searched the car without consent or a warrant and found over $100,000 in cash in the car. The cash was seized and transferred to the federal government. If i remember correctly over 25 states received a D or worse in terms of their civil forfeiture laws.

I guess my question is how can people prevent this from happening to them? Also what needs to be done to improve these laws?

Thanks for the great post!

FreeRangeLawyer73 karma

Ugh, crazy story. That kind of roadside seizure is super common, but it makes me mad every time.

There's a lot of changes that need to be made to the nation's forfeiture laws, but I think the big ones can be boiled down to two: First, nobody should have their property taken without being convicted of a crime. And, second, law enforcement shouldn't be able to keep the money; it should go to the general fund to be appropriated by the legislature. That way we take away both the means and the motive to take property from innocent people.

Ironically, New Mexico amended its laws in 2015 to make both those reforms. We hold up New Mexico's reforms as a model for the rest of the country to follow. The problem here is that city officials in Albuquerque aren't following the reform law! So even once reforms are passed, it's still important to follow-through and make sure they're enforced.

jub-jub-bird45 karma

There's a lot of changes that need to be made to the nation's forfeiture laws

In light of both the 5th and 14th amendments saying that no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law how is the current forfeiture law even constitutional? This doesn't seems like a gray area open to interpretation.

FreeRangeLawyer40 karma

Agreed. Really what I'm saying is civil forfeiture needs to be abolished and replaced with what we call criminal forfeiture. But to get from here to there, the two things I identified are the big changes that would be required.

x86_64Ubuntu16 karma

How can state level laws be ignored at the municipality level?

FreeRangeLawyer46 karma

Good question - they can't! They're claiming they can go on taking property because the law doesn't explicitly say that it applies to cities and towns, but there's no requirement that the law say anything of the sort. The law abolishes civil forfeiture in New Mexico, and Albuquerque is located in New Mexico and has to follow the law.

PM-ME-SEXY-CHEESE1 karma

Who is going to enforce it the police who are actively committing the crime? The problem is the police are corrupt and are the people tasked with enforcing the law.

FreeRangeLawyer4 karma

That's what judges are for!

notokaycj39 karma

What recourse does the common citizen have when those tasked with enforcing the law ignore the law?

FreeRangeLawyer62 karma

That's why we have courts, and we need good judges who are willing to stand up to elected officials and enforce the law. Of course litigation is expensive, and the common citizen can't always afford to fight. In that case -- call IJ!

swol_night_shyamalan36 karma

If you find yourself in a situation where a police offer is looking to seize your property, what actions should we take on the scene or directly afterwards to either prevent the forfeiture or to best prepare ourselves for getting the property back later on?

FreeRangeLawyer70 karma

"Lawyer, please." Then: Silence. Silence. Silence. Silence.

Also: "No you can't search there. No I don't consent to search."

Lawdoc130 karma

Do you or your organization target any issues other than CAF, and if so, what are they?

FreeRangeLawyer55 karma

We do! IJ has four pillars -- property rights (e.g. civil forfeiture, eminent domain), economic liberty (e.g. occupational licensing), first amendment (e.g. speech licenses), and school choice. You should check out our website! http://ij.org/issues/

rumpumpumpum31 karma

Just donated to IJ based on this comment. I couldn't ask for more!

FreeRangeLawyer13 karma

:-)

Lawdoc111 karma

I will as soon as I finish a petition to withdraw a guilty plea (based on Birchfield).

FreeRangeLawyer11 karma

Good luck!

yepumno8 karma

I don't want to derail your thread so I'll ask this here. How legitimate is the free earth society defense that people sometimes use when they get pulled over?
I've seen some you tube videos where people crack their windows to talk to leo's and claim they don't recognize the authority of the officer because they're a free citizen. There's typically then a forced entry from the officer and the person is often detained. In the videos the person looks somewhat foolish for not cooperating but I assume the "antics" end up being relevant once they get to court.

FreeRangeLawyer26 karma

Not really legit, from an historical/legal perspective. Definitely not something a judge would consider legit.

The important thing in a stop is don't ever consent to a search and always ask for a lawyer as soon as they start asking questions.

PM-ME-SEXY-CHEESE6 karma

Can you request a lawyer when they ask you why they pulled you over?

FreeRangeLawyer15 karma

Just say "no." :-)

dscott0627 karma

Is IJ hiring new lawyers, and how competitive is the hiring process? What sort of experience or other things do you all look for in an applicant?

FreeRangeLawyer30 karma

We're always hiring! http://ij.org/opportunities/employment-opportunities/?p=job%2FoUIN3fwc

It's very competitive, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't apply. We're looking for smart people with the skills to do the job -- not any particular type of experience or resume check marks. The important thing is to convince us you're smart, energetic, personable, and passionate about the issues.

BukChoiBoi19 karma

Is there a lot of backlash from the government? Do they target your friends/family to keep you quite?

FreeRangeLawyer21 karma

Not yet!

Raging_Dragon19 karma

If Civil Forfeiture doesn't go away - how do you see this changing the relationship between citizens and their government?

FreeRangeLawyer37 karma

This is a seriously great question and one I've been mulling over for an hour ago (and, honestly, even before you asked it). This kind of thing is seriously corrosive. I have clients who always believed in this country, some of whom came here from other countries to escape tyranny, and the thing they always say is that they never thought this could happen to them in America. But of course it is happening all the time.

Constitutional limits on government exist to protect individuals, of course, but there's also a sense in which those constitutional limits are necessary to protect the basic legitimacy of government. If government can't be kept within its proper limits, people are going to lose faith in the whole idea of democratic government.

jennydancingaway18 karma

Do you have any advice for someone looking into pursuing a similar line of work? In paralegal school not sure if I should go to law school? Would love to focus on human rights violations. You are too cool.

FreeRangeLawyer35 karma

A lot of lawyers try to dissuade people from going to law school, but I'm not one of those. I'm the rare lawyer who actually loves his job. But I do think people need to think really seriously about why they want to go to law school and what their plan is to make it financially feasible. Law school is extraordinarily expensive, and some people end up taking out a lot of loans that become an albatross they can't pay off or lock them in high-paying jobs they hate (or both). Don't become one of those people! But if you have a passion for human rights work you should talk to people in the field and see if you can come up with a realistic plan to get from A to B. Plan, plan, plan, then do. Good luck!

Introvetero18 karma

What type of pizza did you buy to celebrate?

FreeRangeLawyer27 karma

I'm a big fan of the Route One Special at Monterey's Pizza. Best Pizza in Alexandria, VA!

scraggledog15 karma

Do you feel the injustice in society today especially in USA is just greedy individuals being corrupted on an individual basis or is there a more sinister overall plan by the rich elite?

FreeRangeLawyer59 karma

I'm temperamentally inclined to think that most people mean well and are just unable to see the harm caused by their actions. Though honestly doing this job, and seeing the things government can do, has made me a bit more cynical. Some people are evil, and evil people like getting into government since it gives them a platform to tinker with other peoples' lives. I'd say our problems boil down to 10% evil and 90% misguided idealism. Either way the solution is less government, more self-government.

Tools4toys14 karma

In reading the article, it would seem the way the civil forfeiture law as written for Albuquerque is totally against Constitutional law, hasn't this issue raised before by other attorneys? If so, what was the outcome of those cases? If it has been disputed before, did the city just quietly settle out of court to keep their law intact?
Have they approached you and the client about this?

FreeRangeLawyer33 karma

There have been constitutional challenges in the past -- some of which actually were successful in raising narrower challenges, prompting the city to make technical changes to the law -- but nobody has raised the bigger-picture issues that we're raising now. Our claim is that government attorneys can't have an overwhelming financial incentive to take property, as that warps the enforcement of the law in violation of due process. We're treading on new ground there, at least in New Mexico. (IJ is currently pursuing the same legal theory in our class action challenging civil forfeiture in Philly.)

Honestly, most forfeiture cases in Albuquerque don't even involve attorneys. The people whose cars are being seized can't afford to pay for lawyers, so they appear pro se to litigate the case themselves. We're shaking things up just by walking in the door.

Phenom10x14 karma

Why isn't the 4th amendment ever used in these cases? I understand they are actually charging the items, but surely the owner of those items has protections for their items right?

FreeRangeLawyer22 karma

Absolutely, we bring 4th Amendment arguments in civil forfeiture cases all the time. Believe it or not, though, there are some judges who say that the 4th Amendment doesn't apply in civil forfeiture cases because the case is against the property and not the property owner. That's crazy wrong, and a lot of judges say the opposite, but it's an issue we're having to fight.

Phenom10x4 karma

Do you have any transcripts of these cases? I'd love to read these. That's the justification I always thought they gave, and it's just weird to see judge's actually use that. Thank you for all you do.

jub-jub-bird8 karma

This was my question. The constitution seems super clear on this issue in both the 5th amendment and the 14th. As written it's not a gray area open to interpretation, it's as clear as possible that the government can't take your property without due process.

FreeRangeLawyer13 karma

For better or worse, "it's super clear in the text of the constitution" is not always the winning legal argument it should be. For a long time judges were very accepting of civil forfeiture, partly because they saw it as a way for government to get tough on crime. But we're making progress, and courts are starting to see that many of the people targeted through civil forfeiture aren't actually criminals. It turns out the constitution gives criminal defendants rights for a reason, to prevent innocent people from being punished. We've abandoned that principle with civil forfeiture, and now we're seeing what a mistake that was.

FreeRangeLawyer7 karma

Unfortunately "the constitution is clear as written" is less of a winning legal argument than it should be. Judges have been very accommodating of civil forfeiture, which has been seen as a way to get tough on crime. Of course the problem is that civil forfeiture allows police to circumvent the requirement to actually convict people of crimes before treating them as criminals. It turns out that "innocent until proven guilty" actually is a valuable concept that protects innocent people. Courts are starting to see the mistake that they made, and I think we'll see courts begin to pull back on this whole enterprise.

decimated_napkin11 karma

Do you work closely with Robert McNamara? I met him at an IHS seminar, he's a great guy. Wish you all the best in your continued efforts to fight for the people. If you ever need some help with data analysis of any kind please feel free to reach out!

FreeRangeLawyer17 karma

Bob is the best. That's how I ended up at IJ: I was out drinking with Bob at a bar, and I said "geez I'd love to work at IJ." And he said, "you should!" And I said: "You're right!"

smashinbees10 karma

Red or green?

FreeRangeLawyer14 karma

Christmas!

PunTheJewels9 karma

Hi Robert, I just graduated from a University with a degree not in law. I do however love the type of work you're doing and I myself have dreamt about doing similar work or working for organizations (such as the ACLU or EFF to name a few) who do. Do you have any advice for getting into work like this for an outsider? Going to law school isn't really in the cards right now and may never be but regardless I always find myself wanting to fight for the little guy. Any advice?

FreeRangeLawyer10 karma

Sure - You don't have to be a lawyer to work at a place like IJ. We have a really fantastic group of people who work here -- including an awesome activism team that organizes people to fight unjust laws and government actions. Good luck to you!

Smarterthanlastweek9 karma

Lawyers - the new warriors!

I haven't read anything, but it seems open and shut. Is anyone likely to see jail time?

FreeRangeLawyer29 karma

For better or worse, government officials practically never go to jail for violating peoples' constitutional rights. We save that punishment for government officials who speak without following all the speech laws and filling out all the required speech paperwork.

MassiveMastiff9 karma

Where does one get the best breakfast burrito in New Mexico?

FreeRangeLawyer10 karma

Not a big breakfast person -- digesting a burrito all day slows me down. But the sopapillas and margaritas at El Patio de Albuquerque are fantastic.

MVB18379 karma

I wrote a seminar paper on Civil Forfeiture for law school and ended up looking into IJ reports quite a bit as a source (that, and histories of Deodands and the British Navigation Acts). You guys do great work.

My question -- how'd you end up working for these folks?

Also, my conclusion was very critical of the practice -- and I mentioned Albuquerque, actually -- but how do we get around what seems to be a successful use of asset forfeiture against cartels?

FreeRangeLawyer10 karma

When I was in law school, I applied to work at IJ over my 1L summer. I really respected the work that IJ was doing, and it seemed like a great place to work. There was a whole interview process, including some questions about identifying my favorite philosopher, and thankfully they hired me.

Fast forward seven years, and I'd graduated law school, clerked, and worked at a firm. I was still in touch with IJ and had done some pro bono work for IJ while at my law firm to keep in touch. Fortunately for me they were willing to take me back.

We're always looking for lawyers to help out with research and other issues, and that's a great way to get involved so you're not a total stranger when you apply.

tacotrucks4all7 karma

Zoning restrictions and minimum parking requirements legislate a maximum supply. Many argue they have created the housing affordability crisis now gripping most vibrant metro areas. Is there any prospect you or IJ would target them?

FreeRangeLawyer11 karma

Yes! Zoning laws are the worst. We're always looking for the right case and client to raise the issue.

dayz2gunz6 karma

Hi, I'm very interested in this - from what I've seen, they are actually bringing charges against material goods, such as 'City of XXX Police versus $3516.72'. How can inert material matter be charged with a crime and taken to court?

Also, could these seizures be considered 'Theft Under Color of Authority'?

I for one am horrified at the lengths government agencies will go to to disrespect property rights of citizens, REGARDLESS of any criminality. I don't even believe that Drug Sellers should have their stuff seized through criminal forfeiture. Thank you so very much for taking this fight on. You have my respect and support(ive words, at the least).

FreeRangeLawyer10 karma

Thanks! You're absolutely right that the whole theory here is that inanimate property is somehow guilty of a crime. Seems crazy to me, but there you have it.

"Theft under color of authority" isn't a bad way to put it. If you want to get all legalistic, I'd say the government is taking peoples' property in violation of due process and is doing so under color of state law.

Ghost_Goggles4 karma

Is William Riker your father?

FreeRangeLawyer17 karma

No but I admire how he sits in chairs.

drugsrterrible3 karma

What is your take on all of the sovereign citizen arguments that have been made recently? (The Bundy family comes to mind for me)

FreeRangeLawyer13 karma

I totally get the impulse that drives people to make those kinds of arguments, but for the most part the arguments aren't rooted in the history or theory of the constitution and courts don't take them seriously. It's really hard work to translate the human impulse towards freedom into a legal argument that a judge will understand and accept. We have to do a ton of research, reading, and creative thinking to bridge that gap in our cases.

rosickness123 karma

Do you think the DOJ will be focused more on real criminals in 10 yrs or continue putting non violent petty criminals in jail? Do you see an overturn of how criminal justice courts work toward these non violent or drug related charges in the next decade?

FreeRangeLawyer8 karma

I hope so! Lots of that depends on Congress. I've had some run-ins with really terrible prosecutors at DOJ, and I don't want to let those guys off the hook. (Though I also have friends at DOJ - they're not all bad!) Ultimately though Congress writes the law and DOJ enforces it. One of my pet peeves is when Congress holds hearings to yell at DOJ for enforcing laws that Congress could (in theory) take off the books in a heartbeat.

There's certainly lots of good movement in Congress to change the law for the better. Whether that goes anywhere, we'll see.

Either way, beyond the political solution, we need courts to begin stepping in to enforce peoples' rights. That's happening, but there are also a lot of judges who just don't see that as their role. We need to convince judges that it's OK to stand up for the individual against the government.

SoylentRox2 karma

Just reading this with fresh eyes : it seems like 2 major things need to be fixed :

a. The government needs to have a conviction in the case, and prove with at least preponderance that money from the convicted defendant was used to purchase the asset in question.

b. The value of the asset seized needs to be proportional to the crime committed. If someone sells a $10 bag of weed, and no other weed is found, unless the government can find a transaction history or some proof that the defendant sold a given amount of weed, they shouldn't be able to seize more than 10 or 100 times (or some reasonable ratio) the value of the profitable criminal activity committed.

Also, the activity must be profitable. How does someone profit from drunk driving?

And the state should have to compensate the wronged party for the lost value of a seized asset and interest if they lose their case...

FreeRangeLawyer2 karma

I think you worked your way past just 2 things. There's so much wrong with civil forfeiture, the solution here is to abolish it entirely. The government should only be able to take property through criminal forfeiture, which applies only after somebody is convicted of a crime and has other important due process protections.

SoylentRox1 karma

This makes sense. Originally wasn't the intention to deny Mafia members money they used to bribe witnesses and authorities and pay the best possible attorneys? In principle it would be very difficult to convict someone with that kind of power and legal representation, so the idea was to steal their money even without a conviction?

FreeRangeLawyer3 karma

Basically, though more to go after drug cartels than mafia. You can see how the whole thing started with good intentions. But in practice, if you take away the presumption of innocence, the result is government starts going after innocent people.

twistid4202 karma

A bit off subject, but how often do you get called Ferris Bueller?

FreeRangeLawyer5 karma

Never?

jgreth892 karma

What ate your tjoughts on occupational licensure? I know that in some places you a liscense to braid hair, to be a horse masseuse, to be a florist, to teach spin class, etc. What, if anything, has IJ done about this?

FreeRangeLawyer2 karma

Occupational licensing is terrible -- it puts barriers in front of people who just want to get a job, and more often than not those barriers serve no real purpose other than protecting economic incumbents. IJ has been fighting occupational licensing laws for years. Personally, I'm representing a group of tour guides in Savannah who are suing to challenge the city's requirement to get a license before talking about the city -- a dumb law that also plainly violates the First Amendment. Our case was featured in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/us/lawsuit-may-reshape-tourist-industry-in-history-rich-savannah.html?_r=5

Hiss_and_Lear2 karma

For us 1L's out there, what, if any, study aides did you use that you would recommend? Any tips would be appreciated. Thanks for your time!

FreeRangeLawyer7 karma

My advice: read the cases, attend the lectures, and make your own outline. You'll learn better that way than trying to digest somebody else's study guide.

Of course if there are things you still don't get after doing all that, then a commercial study guide can help. But don't lean on it too much.

quakerlaw1 karma

Are you using local counsel in Albuquerque, or are you representing your client PHV?

FreeRangeLawyer3 karma

We're joined by Asher Kashanian, a New Mexico attorney, as local counsel. Asher has been great! Of course we've also entered into the case PHV (for all the non-lawyers, a fancy way for out-of-state attorneys to enter into a case in a state where they aren't licensed). IJ attorneys do all the substantive legal work in our cases.