"U.S. v. Eight Thousand Pounds of Baling Twine"

From time to time you see a style of cause like this: some high legal official v. some kind of material object. What exactly is this proceeding for? Does the baling twine get a lawyer? Why isn’t the defendent the owner of the baling twine? Can anyone give an entertaining example of this kind of case?

(I should point out that the title is an example I made up.)

Also, does this only happen in the US? I can’t remember running across any titles like this in Canada.

IINAL, but IIRC that is the form a condemnation hearing takes. If the gummint wants to confiscate contraband, then they must prove it is contraband. Those hearings take the form you listed. I think every government does it, and they would all have the same sort of format. The baling twine can have a lawyer, if it so desires. This usually happens when the object in question doesn’t clearly violate the law. There are any number of cases in U.S. history involving pornography that have rather amusing titles. U.S. vs Fanny Hill, for example.

There are seperate procedures for possession of contraband. These would take the format of U.S. vs matt_mcl.

Do they ask it? Does the baling twine get to plead? Does the owner get to plead on behalf of the baling twine? This is fascinating. :slight_smile:

(not being sarcastic, btw)

At last a beautifully illustrated Fanny Hill is available to the British public for the first time since its prosecution, and subsequent acquittal, for obscenity in 1963.

It happens everywhere. In the above case, the importer fought the government’s contention that Fanny Hill was obscene, and won.

*Memoirs v. Massachusetts (1966) - The Court ruled that a lower court had erred in finding that the Attorney General of Massachusetts could initiate legal proceedings against John Cleland’s book Fanny Hill, as the book could not be considered obscene since it had some redeeming value. Famously, Associate Justice Potter Stewart’s concurring opinion explained hard core pornography by stating “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material … but I know it when I see it.” *

There are usually interested parties that can contest the comdemnation. Of course, if the penalty for trying to import contraband is very high, they may just let it go without a fight.

The twine pleads knot guilty.

It’s a legal dodge to allow the government to seize property without respecting the Constitutional rights of the owner (i.e. no, the baling twine doesn’t get a lawyer because it’s not a person; no, the owner of the baling twine doesn’t get a lawyer, either, because he isn’t the defendant).

Some fun examples, both of which made it to the Supreme Court:


One of the worst things about living in today’s litigous society is that cases against objects like twine really tie up the justice system, keeping legitimate cases out of the courtroom.

There are some other examples I can think of:

  1. When a peice of property is in dispute, and a court is needed to determine ownership with many contested parties, I’ve seen it (often mistakenly) captioned US (or state x) v 3 porta-potties. (for example).

  2. Search warrants are often captioned state v description of house or car we think has enough drugs to float a battleship.

  3. Hi Opal!

BTW, sometimes you see these captioned In Re:, as in In Re the white house at 1401 Irving Street.

That’s not true. These types of proceedings are known as in rem proceedings, proceedings against property, whether real or personal. Any person who has an interest in the property is a proper party to the proceedings, if not a necessary party. In such suits, if personal service cannot be obtained (because either the defendant is unknown, or his address is unknown, or for any other reason), service can be had by publication. This satisfies the “due process” clause.

Persons who are known to have an interest must be given such notice (by publication, if necessary). If unknown, they can be made defendants as “unknown owners.”

A criminal forfeiture is a punishment against a person; jurisdiction is said to be in personam. Usually, a criminal forfeiture is given as part of a sentence after guilt has been adjudicated. Since it is a criminal proceeding, the defendant receives the protections of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; after that, the defendant must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the property was not connected with the underlying crime to avoid forfeiture.

In civil forfeiture, the government doesn’t need to allege the underlying crime. The jurisdiction being exerted isn’t over you personally, but over your property, in rem. This is done by a legal fiction that assumes the property’s guilt in a civil harm. The governemnt becomes a plaintiff suing the property, now a defendant, for it’s involvement in a civil wrong, and the nature of the proceeding is theoretically a remedy of that wrong and not a punishment. Since the property is the one actually being sued, the owner is put in the position of being a sort of third party intervenor.

Let’s say that I’m pulled over under suspsicious circumstances, and a search of my car reveals $35,550 in cash stuffed in a hidden compartment. I can’t be linked to any particular crime, so I’m not charged criminally. However, the amount of cash I’m carrying and my method of doing so make it likely that it was done in connection with a crime. The state files State of Texas v. $35,350 in U.S. currency. If i want to get my money back, I’m going to go have to hire a lawyer and fight to get it back by disproving the state’s prima facie case by a preponderance of the evidence that the money is not subject to forfeiture. If I fail to do so (and if notice requirements have been satisfied, i.e. I’ve been served personally or by publication), my money will be forfeit by a default judgement, unless my money hires its own lawyer.

The government usually prefers civil in rem forfeiture, since no underlying charge needs to be made or proven against an individual.

In a Steel-Cage match with no holds barred? :smiley:

Otto, I’ve seen you make these horrible puns before:

Carry on.

The only Canadian cases that I can recall with this type of style of cause are admiralty cases, brought in rem against a ship, usually by a private party. I don’t recall ever seeing forfeiture cases using this type of style of cause.

I thought

was much funnier.

My favorite example is U.S. v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries . (A pessary is a birth control device like a diaphragm.)

My favorite is United States v. Lucite Ball Containing Lunar Material, which I thought sounded pretty ominous. I really hope that the Pessaries and the Lucite Ball both win, and have to fight it out in a play-off.

…cases against objects like twine really tie up the justice system…

was funny, but too subtle to be described as horrible.