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Florida Court Finds Government Forfeiture of Home Used to Cultivate Marijuana is Unconstitutional

The War on Drugs rages on with big government-loving police and prosecutors seeking to take property from citizens for their involvement with the marijuana plant. In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the War on Drugs manifested itself in the government’s attempt to take a house from a person for growing some marijuana plants and seeling marijuana. Fortunately, the appellate court determined that this excessive display of big government overreach was unconstitutional as it violated the Eight Amendment to the Constitution.

The Florida forfeiture laws, which we have dealt with over and over again, allow the police to take property, and keep property, that was involved with, or has some close relationship to, certain criminal activity. Unfortunately for humanity and civilization, marijuana crimes are included among those that trigger the Florida forfeiture laws and allow the state to take property from people.

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, an individual was convicted of manufacturing and selling marijuana out of his home. As part of that criminal case, the defendant was sentenced to a form of probation, community service and drug treatment. The local government also initiated forfeiture proceedings to take ownership of the house where the marijuana was found. The house was valued at approximately $250,000. The local judge agreed and let the government take the house. However, the case was appealed, and the appellate court overruled the judge.

The Eight Amendment to the Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment and also specifically prohibits excessive fines. This applies to the Florida forfeiture laws. In determining whether a fine is excessive, the judge is supposed to consider whether the defendant is the type of person the forfeiture laws intended to address, other penalties to which the defendant is subject and the harm caused by the defendant. Applying these factors, and noting that the maximum fine the defendant could have received was $37,000, much less than the value of the home, the appellate court found that the harm caused by a marijuana charge was much less significant than the punishment and hardship from forfeiting a $250,000 home.

This should have been obvious to the judge. It is hard for anyone to argue that our criminal justice system should spend so much time, effort, resources and money on the marijuana plant. It is inconceivable that a person should lose an expensive home, or any expensive property, over the marijuana plant. This kind of case encapsulates the problems with big, abusive, overreaching, irrational government as much as any case does.