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The Camp Zoe case is in the news as an example of the Feds’ aggressive move to shut down “drug venues” by targeting where drugs are bought, sold and consumed, regardless of whether the owner of the property is implicated in criminal conduct.

In U.S. District Court in Missouri, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed a civil asset forfeiture lawsuit to try to seize Camp Zoe, a 350 acre campground that hosts music gatherings, after a four year long investigation by the DEA and the Missouri State High Patrol which allegedly found widespread drug use and sales on the property.

According to the Government’s complaint filed in early November, “over the past several years law enforcement agents have specifically observed the open sales of cocaine, marijuana, LSD (acid), ecstasy, psilocybin mushrooms, opium and marijuana laced food products by individuals attending the music festival and made multiple undercover purchases of illegal drugs.”

The Government’s petition initiating the forfeiture action alleges that the property is subject to forfeiture because of the unlawful activity taking place there. Under a civil forfeiture action, the Government does not need to convict the property owners of a crime or even charge them with a crime. At the time the Government filed its’ seizure and forfeiture petition, the owner of Camp Zoe had not been charged with a crime under either state or federal law.

It may be in this case that the U.S. Supreme Court gets the chance to revisit the “excessive fine” defense to asset forfeiture cases.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.” U.S. Const. Amend. VIII (emphasis added). The Supreme Court, in Austin v. United States, 509 U.S. 602 (1993), addressed whether the “Excessive Fines Clause” applied to forfeitures under 21 U.S.C. §881(a)(4) and (a)(7), the federal Controlled Substances Act. In Austin, the defendant pled guilty in state court to possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Subsequently the federal government filed an in rem action in federal district court seeking forfeiture of defendant’s auto body shop and mobile home.

During the proceeding, evidence was introduced that the defendant sold two grams of cocaine at his auto body shop. A subsequent search of the defendant’s mobile home uncovered small amounts of marihuana and cocaine, a gun, drug paraphernalia and $4700.00 in cash. Summary judgment for the government was granted and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and held that the “Excessive Fines Clause” applies to civil forfeitures under 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(4) and (a)(7). The Court further held that such forfeitures are properly considered as “punishment,” noting the legislative history which characterizes forfeitures of real property as “a powerful deterrent,” the inclusion of an innocent owner defense and the language of the statute itself which states property is forfeitable only if tied directly to the commission of drug offenses.

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the cause to the Court of Appeals to determine if the forfeiture violated the Excessive Fines Clause. The Supreme Court did not establish any guidelines to be used in the determination of whether a particular in rem forfeiture is excessive, though Justice Scalia’s concurring opinion does say that the sole measure of an in rem forfeiture’s excessiveness is the “relationship” between the forfeited property and the offense.

In the Camp Zoe case, it would appear that the Feds will need to prove that “relationship” between the venue and the unlawful drug activity – conducted by third parties, not the owner of the property – is strong enough to withstand the “Excessive Fines” defense. It would seem that an owner of property who is not charged with, let alone convicted, of a crime, would have a strong case to argue that forfeiting his property, which was legally obtained and was not the “instrumentality” of a crime, would violate the Eighth Amendment.

Still, one has to wonder – how many more venues may be in the Government’s sights using this theory of seizure and forfeiture?

For more information about the author and Texas Forfeiture Law, visit www.TexasForfeitureLaw.com .

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9 Responses to “The Eighth Amendment Protection in Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Cases – The Camp Zoe Case”

  1. folly says:

    Forfeiture is becoming more and more prevalent in this country. To see the hundreds of pages of property our Government has seized from its citizens and plans to keep, go to “forfeiture.gov” (only the us atty link is active now) It is true you need never be accused of a crime to have your property seized and the Government only needs “probable cause” the lowest possible standard to seize your property. If you have the audacity to file a claim to try and get your property back, the Government will file a judicial lawsuit against you which they can win by “the preponderance of the evidence” again, the lowest possible standard (compare to “clear and convincing evidence” or “beyond a reasonable doubt”). With property like this camp,
    they will try to convict the owner by saying they knew the
    camp had a “drug problem” and that the owner did not do “everything he reasonably could” to stop it. This happened
    also with a low cost hotel in Texas—the police didn’t want to do their job and STOP the drug dealers/prostitutes that plagued the hotel—instead they went after the owner saying “hire security! put up fences! put up lights! RAISE YOUR ROOM PRICEs!”—when the owner complained it wasn’t economically feasible–they tried to forfeit the hotel–Blaming HIM for not stopping the crime!
    The same thing could happen to families—if hubby is raising a few marijuana plants behind the barn, and the wife absolutely doesn’t know—the Gov will still try to take the property through forfeiture—as it facilitated drugs. The wife will have to fight the Government to keep her property by absolutely proving she had no idea—even if she “wins” (innocent owner)–the Gov will take the half of the property that belonged to convicted Hubby. (in a case
    in Alabama—the remorseful husband killed himself—and the Gov still pursued the cancer stricken widow for the farm)
    We should all be aware that forfeiture can affect not just CONVICTED criminals—but innocent people around them as well.

  2. strayan says:

    First of all they need to explain why LSD is prohibited.

    According to a recent review paper:

    “There have been no documented human deaths from an LSD overdose” and “LSD is physiologically well tolerated and there is no evidence for long-lasting effects on brain and other parts of the human organism.”


    But would the science know, am I right?

  3. strayan says:

    Sorry, that should’ve said,

    “But what would science know”

  4. TYC says:

    Joseph Goebbels would be proud of his accomplishment. He would be even prouder that conservative citizens actually applaud these activities…until it’s their emergency $100 bill hidden in their wallet is taken. Then it’s too late! I believe that it’s already too late. They’ve had a taste of blood (money).

  5. Hodad says:

    We keep Jimmy’s dreams of love alive. GRATEFUL

  6. Kalah Reighn Wooten says:

    Okay first of all.. “freedom” no longer exists in the U.S. what the “government” doesnt understand what goes on at these festivals is completely harmless… no one is out to get any one.. just a bunch of hippies spreading the love to one another. there are way worse things in society that need to be corrected, not peace love and music. what has this place come to. the government is more concerned about taking away from the ppl and pissing ppl off rather than helping someone. im a lover not a fighter. the government doesnt give two shits what kind of person you are if you have somthing they want.. and as far as the drug thing goes there just pissed off they cant find the goods. it just bothers me that it seems like they rather take control over this rather than going out and spending their time invesagating crimes that matter such as kidnappers and murders.. i mean shit to me seems like “camp zoe” is more important than the ppl killers out there. wtf. come on government set a good example.

    • ashleigh carter says:

      kalah this is the us government we’re talking about. they’re all bastards. they will always be bastards. until people get pissed off enough to stand together and do something, they will continue to piss on our heads and tell us it’s rain, believe that.

  7. happy schwag says:

    schwagstock is the best olace on earth.. the feds need to leave it alone.. i have been and it is so cozy and has the most polite ppl in the world.. i had a blast and never saw anyone do drugs.. the search ur car before u even enter the event… LEAVE SCHWAG ALONE… good luck jimmy i hope to see u and the schawg again soon… HAPPY SCHWAG.. SCHAPPY HAG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. dj says:

    shwagg is my home away from home it is to great and wonderfull to be siezed the goverment needs to worrie about worse causes then us happy lovin pepple

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