A federal appeals court just knocked the FBI down a peg…
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found the bureau violated private citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights when it seized contents from hundreds of safe deposit boxes during a 2021 raid on a Beverly Hills business suspected of money laundering.
“This was a resounding victory, not just for our clients, but for the hundreds of people who’ve been stuck in a nightmare for years because of what the FBI did,” Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Rob Frommer, who represented several plaintiffs in the case, told Fox News.
In March 2021, FBI agents searched and seized 1,400 safe deposit boxes without criminal warrants for each. The total the FBI took about $86 million in cash from the boxes in the raid, as well as a trove of jewelry, gold bars and coins, silver and other valuables. In May, the FBI “commenced administrative forfeiture proceedings” against an unspecified number of the boxes, according to court documents filed by the government.
The ruling reversed a 2022 lower court decision siding with the FBI and requires federal officials to destroy any inventory records of the hundreds of box holders not charged with a crime.
Civil asset forfeiture is the process through which the government seizes money or other property believed to be linked to a crime, even if the owner isn’t charged with a crime.
The FBI’s raid on U.S. Private Vaults was part of its investigation into the company, which ultimately shut down and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder drug money.
The warrant only authorized authorities to seize business computers, money counters, and surveillance equipment. The judge also allowed them to seize safety deposit boxes and keys, but specifically wrote that agents should only “inspect the contents of the boxes in an effort to identify their owners … so that they can claim their property,” and that the warrant “does not authorize a criminal search or seizure of the contents of the safety deposit boxes.”
In its decision, the 9th Circuit panel wrote that the government had gone beyond the scope of its warrant and violated its own rules by taking inventory of property that wasn’t the subject of a warrant.
Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. wrote that it was “particularly troubling” that the government couldn’t explain the limitations to these types of inventory searches and questioned how they differed from the “limitless searches of an individual’s personal belongings” like those seen in colonial America.
One of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit said the win was “incredibly gratifying.”
“Hearing these judges just knock them down a peg and talk through the situation, this extraordinary overreach and an actual breaking of civil rights … it was just really, really gratifying,” she told Fox News.
Another plaintiff said while this ruling helped “expose the government’s attempt to steal innocent people’s things,” he doesn’t think it will end civil forfeiture abuse.
“I think this ruling on its own is important, but it won’t stop the FBI’s grasping hand,” he told Fox News. “Yeah, they got their hand slapped just now. But unless there’s real consequences, they’ll just view this as a dry run for the next time.”
This article originally appeared in American Liberty News. Opinions expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Great America News Desk. Republished with permission.