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United States v. Ursery


Justice Stevens may have been the only dissenter on the Supreme Court in Ursery, but he was far from the only American alarmed by the Court's ruling in the case. The decision reflected a law-and-order trend which, while it may have responded to genuine threats to the public order posed by drug dealers, appeared to catch relatively innocent people in its snares as well. Thus, in a related 1996 decision, Bennis v. Michigan, the Court held that a car used for an illegal act--sex with a prostitute, could be seized even if the co-owner of the car had no knowledge of the illegal activities. This was a new trend, a change from the civil-libertarian stance of Austin, noted both by Justice Stevens and David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote, " . . . Monday's decision is something of a surprise. Three years ago, the justices moved to rein in the aggressive use of civil forfeiture." William R. Schroeder in The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin noted "A decline in the use of asset forfeiture by federal law enforcement over the past 2 years" which had "prompted this reinvigoration effort." Mark Feldman, a former federal prosecutor, likewise told National Public Radio just after the ruling, "I think the government will be enormously emboldened, relieved, as a result of this opinion, and you'll see--we will all see the number of seizures and forfeiture cases increase substantially." In an ABA Journal article, John Gibeaut used the title of a popular 1960s song whose protagonist has smoked too much marijuana--"One Toke Over the Line"--to suggest that the federal government's Ursery ruling would have far-ranging implications for civil liberties. The decision could be used to defeat double-jeopardy challenges by drunk drivers and sex offenders, as Gibeaut indicated; but it was quite possible that in future cases it could be wielded against more mainstream elements of society as well.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentUnited States v. Ursery - Significance, Guy Ursery Grows His Own, Various Items, Emerald Cut Stones, And 89 Firearms