Several Justices Express Dismay at Long Delays in Returning Seized Cars to Innocent Owners

“In February 2019, police in Satsuma, Alabama, pulled over Halima Culley’s son and arrested him for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. They seized the car, which belonged to Culley, and tried to keep it under Alabama’s civil forfeiture law. Although Culley ultimately got her car back as an “innocent owner,” that process took 20 months.
That same month, a friend borrowed Lena Sutton’s car. He was pulled over in Leesburg, Alabama, and arrested for methamphetamine possession. Like Culley, Sutton successfully invoked the “innocent owner” defense to get her car back after police seized it. But that did not happen for over a year. In the meantime, her lawyer told the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, “she missed medical appointments, she wasn’t able to keep a job, she wasn’t able to pay a cell phone bill, and as a result” she “was not in a position to be able to communicate about the forfeiture proceedings.””

The indictment of Hunter Biden isn’t really about gun charges

“The indictment is brief because the underlying situation is quite simple. When Hunter bought the gun, he filled out a form saying he was not a drug user, when in fact he had a serious addiction at that time. Prosecutors assert that this violated three different laws — two false statements laws, and one law banning firearm possession by a drug user.
But the legal and political saga surrounding the indictment is much more complicated. Initially, prosecutors weren’t going to charge Hunter in the gun case at all. They did so only after the lead prosecutor, David Weiss, shifted to a more aggressive posture after a plea deal he’d struck with Hunter’s team fell apart. The question is why, exactly, that plea deal fell apart.

The Hunter Biden investigation has had about as messy a year as could be imagined. In May, two IRS officials involved in the probe went to Congress as whistleblowers to argue that Weiss’s team wasn’t being aggressive enough. In July, Weiss’s team presented their plea deal with Hunter before a judge — who refused to accept it, telling both sides to clarify some of its provisions after a dramatic public hearing.

Then, in August, talks between Weiss’s team and Hunter’s attorneys to finalize that deal collapsed. Hunter’s team has claimed that Weiss tried to belatedly change the deal’s terms on them — offering Hunter much more limited immunity from prosecution — after criticism from Republicans that he wasn’t being tough enough on the president’s son.

Whatever the reason for Weiss’s shift, there’s likely more to come from him. Last month, Weiss, who is the US Attorney for Delaware, requested that Attorney General Merrick Garland grant him special counsel status as well, and Garland agreed. Weiss has suggested in court filings that he intends to charge Hunter with tax crimes as well.”

“The decision to charge here is not because this gun incident suddenly became more serious. It’s because prosecutors have now decided to go after Hunter more aggressively, after the political pressure and the plea deal’s collapse.

There’s nothing unusual about prosecutors charging more crimes after a plea deal falls apart. The mystery here remains why, exactly, the plea deal fell apart. If the main reason is simply that, due to political pressure from Republicans and embarrassment over the IRS officials’ claims, Weiss’s team got cold feet on a deal they’d agreed to — that wouldn’t make them look so great.

If the main reason is instead that, due to confusion or incompetence on his team, he belatedly concluded the initial deal with Hunter had been far too generous — well, that wouldn’t make him look so great either.”

Enrique Tarrio, Proud Boys leader on Jan. 6, sentenced to 22 years for seditious conspiracy

“Tarrio’s sentence closes a significant chapter in the investigation of the Jan. 6 attack. His 22-year sentence is likely to remain the lengthiest for anyone charged in connection with the attack itself — a mark that exceeds the 18-year sentences handed down to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Tarrio’s ally Ethan Nordean.
Prosecutors portrayed Tarrio as a uniquely influential figure who singularly organized a group of hardened Proud Boys members and aimed them at the Capitol on Jan. 6. They said his sentence had to serve as a deterrent to anyone who might target America’s system of government in the future.

“He was on a tier of his own,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Mulroe. “This was a calculated act of terrorism.””

“Tarrio also apologized to police officers, lawmakers and D.C. residents for the carnage of Jan. 6.

“I had the choice multiple times to calm things out and I didn’t. I persisted when I should have calmed,” he said.”

Proud Boys who led march to Capitol get two of the lengthiest sentences since Jan. 6 attack

““That day broke our tradition of peacefully transferring power,” said U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly as he delivered Biggs’ sentence. “The mob brought an entire branch of government to heel.””

“Kelly, an appointee of Donald Trump, agreed with prosecutors that the crimes committed by Biggs and Rehl amounted to an act of terrorism aimed at influencing the government. In Jan. 6 cases, that distinction had until Thursday been applied only to members of the Oath Keepers who were similarly convicted of seditious conspiracy or obstruction.

Kelly spoke at length about his decision to apply the terrorism label and how the Jan. 6 attack compared to other, more stereotypical acts of terrorism that involve mass casualties or bombings.

“While blowing up a building in some city somewhere is a very bad act, the nature of the constitutional moment we were in that day is something that is so sensitive that it deserves a significant sentence,” Kelly said.

The judge, however, did not use the terrorism designation to sharply increase his sentences for Biggs and Rehl. Doing so, he said, would result in an overly harsh punishment because the terrorism enhancement is primarily geared to actions with an “intent to kill” — which he did not attribute to Biggs or Rehl.

The sentences are an important marker in the fraught aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack. Prosecutors, who had asked for a 33-year sentence for Biggs and 30 years for Rehl, said they and their co-conspirators were the driving force behind the violence that unfolded that day, facilitating breaches at multiple police lines and helping the crowd advance into the building itself. A jury convicted the five Proud Boys of multiple conspiracies in June, after a four-month trial that recounted their actions in painstaking detail.

Prosecutors urged Kelly to severely punish Biggs and Rehl as a way to deter others who might consider similar actions in the future aimed at disrupting the government.”

“Prosecutors say the group amassed a force of 200 hand-selected Proud Boys and marched them to the Capitol, where many of them skirmished with police or removed barriers intended to keep the crowd at bay. Nordean and Biggs were convicted of dismantling a black metal fence that was one of police’s last obstacles before the crowd reached the building.”

“When Trump told supporters on Dec. 19, 2020, to amass in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, Tarrio and the Proud Boys leaders quickly responded and began assembling a new chapter that they described as a group of more disciplined and obedient men who would follow their orders. That group, which they dubbed the “Ministry of Self-Defense,” became the core of the group that descended on the Capitol on Jan. 6.”

“During Rehl’s sentencing, Pattis more squarely put the blame for the riot on Trump, saying many in the crowd were simply following his instructions and had no reason to doubt their commander in chief. Pattis mused that it seemed unfair for Rehl to be charged with seditious conspiracy while Trump was not.”

Opinion | If You Want the Public’s Trust, Broadcast the Trump Trials

“U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan has scheduled former President Donald Trump’s federal criminal trial for his deliberate and systematic attempts to overturn the will of American voters for March 4. And if current rules remain, the American people will never see it. Instead, many will hear about it second-hand through siloed media ecosystems and from sources whose fidelity to the facts are tenuous at best.
Now is the time for this to change.”

” If ever there was a moment in American history that should prompt the federal courts to change their outdated policy, surely the prosecution of a former president for attempting to overturn the will of the voters would be it. The time has come for the federal court system to catch-up with the times — many state courts already broadcast live trial proceedings.”

“I suspect my former colleagues at the Justice Department are hesitant to depart from existing norms that date back to 1946 because they have been largely effective in keeping decorum in federal court rooms and protecting witnesses, jurors and judges.

But these are extraordinary times, and extraordinary times demand extraordinary transparency. At the least, the Justice Department should inform the Judicial Conference that it does not oppose efforts to broadcast Trump’s trials live.

The bright light of transparency into both of Trump’s federal cases would communicate an unfiltered and unbiased accounting of trial events, and the strong evidence the government has alleged in its indictments. Equally important, it would show Americans and the world what it means to pursue justice without regard to partisan politics.”

Qualified Immunity May Shield FBI Agents Who Abused the No-Fly List

“”Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, FBI agents unsuccessfully attempted to pressure a group of innocent Muslims, including Muhammad Tanvir, to become informants for the Bureau,” notes the Institute for Justice (I.J.), which filed an amicus brief in Tanvir v. Tanzin. “Tanvir and the others—who were all either American citizens or lawful permanent residents—declined to become informants, because doing so goes against their sincerely held religious beliefs. FBI agents then harassed the group and placed them all on the No-Fly List.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights acts as co-counsels for the plaintiffs alongside the CUNY School of Law’s CLEAR Clinic. They sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ Muslim faith forbids them to inform on coreligionists. The defendants—FBI agents who put Tanvir and the other plaintiffs on the no-fly list—protested that the RFRA doesn’t provide for monetary damages against government officials who violate rights, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise in an important 2020 decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas.”

“In 2021, The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain wrote about Aswad Khan’s mistreatment by the FBI when he refused to be an informant. That same year, Ahmad Chebli, a U.S. citizen, described a similar ordeal.

“Agents threatened my family and me,” he wrote. “They said that if I didn’t agree to become an informant, my family would be investigated, my wife and I could be arrested, my children could be taken away, and my wife’s immigration status could be at risk.”

Chebli was finally removed from the No Fly list after the ACLU sued on his behalf.

Watchlists aren’t supposed to be used this way. In 2014, a federal district judge declared the byzantine process for people to challenge their inclusion on the no-fly list unconstitutional and ordered better guarantees of due process. But as Chebli’s case demonstrates, it’s easy for the government to put people on the lists and then pull them off years later only after they’ve gone through the hassle and expense of filing a federal lawsuit—if they ever do. With no further consequences, that leaves administrative tools like the No Fly List available for ongoing abuse.”

‘Jack Smith Has Made Sure That the System of Laws Still Holds’

“this indictment is on more serious charges — an attack on American democracy. Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election amounted to a conspiracy to defraud the United States and led directly to the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol, according to

Trump’s Georgia Indictment Raises Familiar Questions of Knowledge and Intent

“the proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for a criminal conviction. Eastman (who is one of Trump’s co-defendants) said Trump had been “made aware” that the claims about ballots cast by dead people, felons, and unregistered voters were “inaccurate.” But even if someone told him the numbers were wrong, and even if Trump was paying attention, it would have been perfectly in character for him to continue believing them.
The federal indictment is filled with examples of information that Trump ignored or rejected because it conflicted with his stolen-election narrative. That stubborn resistance can be interpreted either as evidence of his dishonesty or as evidence of his longstanding tendency to embrace self-flattering delusions and never let them go.”

“At a certain point, as George Mason law professor Ilya Somin suggests, willful blindness to reality is hard to distinguish from deliberate deceit, and this example vividly illustrates that point. But in assessing Trump’s state of mind when he made unsubstantiated claims like these, a jury will have to decide whether there is reasonable doubt as to whether he knew they were false.”

Is it illegal to try to steal a presidential election?

“Is it illegal to try to steal a presidential election?
Special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment of Donald Trump..holds that the answer is yes. Trump’s attempt to flip the results after the 2020 election, well before the events of January 6, Smith argues, amounted to a criminal conspiracy that violated three federal laws.

But throughout the history of this investigation, many other officials seemed to think the answer was no.

For about a year after the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the Justice Department’s attention was overwhelmingly focused on that attack itself, not on Trump’s two-month attempt to change the election results beforehand.

Many of Trump’s pre-January 6 actions that Smith cites in his indictment — such as his lobbying of swing state legislators, his organizing of “alternate” elector slates in key states, and his pressuring of Vice President Mike Pence — unfolded at least partly in plain sight or were reported by journalists at the time.

Throughout most and perhaps all of 2021, none of that seems to have been the focus of an investigation by the Justice Department, and in fact, proposals to investigate them were reportedly rejected by DOJ or FBI officials. There wasn’t a consensus then that these actions were actually criminal — many believed that though Trump’s known conduct may have been unethical and dangerous to democracy, it didn’t necessarily violate specific laws.

Now, though, Smith argues the president and his allies were engaged in a criminal conspiracy. The January 6 attack itself plays a relatively more limited role in Smith’s indictment — the main crime, he’s effectively arguing, was Trump’s whole lengthy effort to overturn Biden’s win.

The question of how and why the DOJ shifted so thoroughly on this topic is complicated, and still may not be fully understood.

But one way to understand the new indictment is that it’s an effort to draw a bright line around Trump’s actions, to make clear that nothing like this should happen again — from him, or anyone else.”