Friday, March 27, 2009

County Fails to Convict Alleged Dogfighter, Goes After Property

In AZ, Pima County is trying to seize property belonging to Emily Dennis:

Dennis was arrested in February 2008 as part of a major investigation by the Pima County Sheriff’s Office and the Humane Society of the United States into a multi-state dog fighting ring. Officers raided four separate properties, seized hundreds of dogs and arrested six people, including Dennis.
But Dennis and her partner Mahlon Patrick were acquitted by Judge John Leonardo in November. 

Acquitted.  So what up with the land grab?

County officials said that just because Dennis was acquitted of the charges doesn't mean she wasn't breaking the law.

Deputy County Attorney Kevin Krejci said there is nothing unusual about pursuing civil forfeiture of assets, even when a defendant has been acquitted of criminal charges.

Now I didn't go to law school but as I understand it, acquitted=not guilty.  If  county officials think someone is guilty of violating the law, there's a remedy for that.  It's called prosecution.  How it goes (on TV at least) is the county conducts an investigation, collects evidence, obtains an indictment, presents the case in court and asks the judge or jury to accept the case as having been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  If the prosecution fails to convince a judge or jury of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant will be acquitted.  

I appreciate there are two sides to every legal case and that one side will inevitably be unhappy with the outcome.  And I understand that a civil case is different from a criminal case.  But I am a strong supporter of individual property rights in our country and I  get concerned when government appears to be attempting to subvert our 4th Amendment rights.

The defendant response:

Thomas Higgins represents Emily Dennis.


According to court records, the Pima County Attorney's office is pursuing a civil forfeiture case against two pieces of property. One of them is located in Picture Rocks, just west of Tucson.


These empty kennels are where the more than one hundred pitbulls taken last year used to live.

Note:  All but a handful of the dogs were killed before the owners had their day in court.  

Back to the attempted property seizure:

Thomas Higgins says the state will have a hard time proving the property has illegal ties. "I sent them an extensive packet of the money trail about where the money came from to buy it."

I don't like the idea of government failing to make its case legally and so pursuing property seizure in civil court.  It gives the appearance of our government attempting to use its resources (our resources) to pursue individual citizens whom they were unable to obtain legal convictions against and strip them of their property rights.  To my mind, if the government is conducting an investigation into criminal activity like dogfighting, they should take the time to do it right and present a solid, evidence based case in court.  I am all for convicting and punishing scumbag dogfighters to the full extent of the law.  

I've always held our government to the highest possible standards because we the people demand it.  I want to respect our government officials and to be treated with respect by them.  By necessity, that includes respect for our rights as property owners. 


jan said...

This is outrageous...whatever the government can do to "alleged" criminals who are acquitted, they can do to any of us.

Susan said...

Here's the loophole: for a criminal conviction, you need proof "beyond a reasonable doubt." A "not guilty" verdict merely means that the government did not meet that standard. That's how the Goldmans got their civil case against OJ. Same or similar theory -- a "civil" forfeiture does not require "proof beyond a reasonable doubt," but some lower amount of proof -- I'd need to see what law they are using, either a proponderance of the evidence or "clear and convincing evidence." Neat trick, eh?

YesBiscuit! said...

Jan - Agreed. In a sense, aren't we all basically the legal equivalent of "not guilty of dogfighting"?

Susan - According to the AP article, it's the "preponderance of evidence" one.
This is my thinking on the OJ civil case. The Goldmans were seeking justice for their family member. They felt denied that and possibly blamed the prosecutors and/or jury. They may have felt the criminal justice system failed them so they pursued the matter in civil court. But in this case, the county is the one who failed. They failed themselves? So now they're going to keep calling these people lawbreakers in the press and pursue seizing their property as if they'd won? I don't buy into that tactic at all. They have no one to blame but themselves for failing to obtain a conviction and using the resources of our govt. to pursue the matter almost makes it look like some kind of vendetta. I think the govt. has to hold themselves to higher standards than the average citizen and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Well, in my fantasy world anyway.

Caveat said...

It's Rico.

Up here in Ontario, we have the Civil Remedies Act which is a civil forfeiture Act similar to Rico. That means a lesser burden of proof for the government - they just need to show that property was acquired through criminal activity on a 'balance of probablilities'. It was drafted to bust gangsters and other criminals whom they can't convict (or often even charge) on criminal grounds.

We've had people here publicly branded as 'drug dealers' who have never been convicted. They have lost their property which is forfeited to the Attorney General.

Here's a good article which explains how it works:

I hate this kind of legislation because I believe that the state should be held to a higher standard in order to protect the individual from abuse of power.

But you probably knew that.

Caveat said...

Note to self: Read the other comments before posting...

YesBiscuit! said...

Well at least you read the post Selma, hee hee. I know on occasion I am guilty of reading to a point in the post where I feel compelled to comment and then I go back and wonder if my urgent point was already made in the remainder of the post!