Many thanks to Eapen Thampy, from Americans for Forfeiture Reform, who alerted us to this news item.
In Abingdon, Virginia, U.S. District Attorney Janine Myatt is seeking the forfeiture of ambulances and other squad vehicles from a volunteer rescue services organization:
A federal judge is considering whether the Saltville Rescue Squad has to give up cash and property to cover the cost of a health-care fraud scheme, even though a jury has exonerated the volunteer group of the crime…
Louthian’s defense attorney, Michael Khouri, pointed out that most of the targeted assets belong to the squad.
“The forfeiture issues are the squad’s problem and not Mr. Louthian’s,” he told the judge while reading the prosecution’s list.
Neither the squad nor its lawyers appeared at Monday’s hearing because they have not been considered a party to the case ever since they were acquitted at the September trial.
Yet, a motion filed Sunday shows that prosecutors are eyeing $330,616 from the squad’s bank account, three ambulances, several trucks and emergency equipment.
Thampy comments on this attempt to circumvent the jury’s verdict: “This action by the US Attorney implies that no corporate asset is safe from forfeiture even in the event of a jury acquittal. It also implies that the US Attorney has a theory of justice that is far more expansive than that of judge (who might set a criminal sentence including restitution from Mr. Louthain) or a jury (which found the Saltville Rescue Squad corporation innocent of the fraud).” As Thampy points out, “it’s probably hard for the US Attorney to be impartial here: the proceeds from the bank account and fleet of vehicles will be disbursed to the US Attorney’s Asset Forfeiture Fund.”
This conflict of interest is one of the reasons why independent juries are built into our justice system. Government officials stand to profit from rulings against defendants in many ways, from continuing to ensure an artificial “demand” for their employment to being rewarded financially through confiscation of property under the auspices of asset forfeiture. Standing to gain personally from favoring negative rulings against defendants is a clear conflict of interest which biases and corrupts the legal process.
The independent jury exists to help protect defendants from such bias and corruption. Independent jurors do not stand to profit from their service based on the outcome. They are paid very little, often barely enough to cover their parking and lunch on a day of service, and their compensation is the same regardless of which side prevails. Because their service lasts only the length of a case, recurring at most just a few times in their lives, jurors’ livelihoods do not depend on a steady flow of defendants through the court system or confiscation of their property.
The US Attorney’s pursuit of asset forfeiture- a process which takes place without impartial review by a jury -against defendants who have been found not guilty by an independent jury is an act that thwarts our system of justice and corrupts the process of law.