Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
doj, forfeiture, guitars, seizure, wood

Companies:
gibson



Gibson CEO: US Government Won't Even Tell Us What Law They Think We've Violated

from the of-course-not,-they're-suing-the-wood dept

We recently wrote about the bizarre Justice Department raids of Gibson Guitar over some questions on the provenance of the wood. Gibson's CEO is now lashing out at the US government for refusing to even say what law was broken:
The raids forced Gibson to cease manufacturing operations and send workers home for the day while armed agents executed the search warrants. “Agents seized wood that was Forest Stewardship Council controlled,” Juszkiewicz said. “Gibson has a long history of supporting sustainable and responsible sources of wood and has worked diligently with entities such as the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace to secure FSC-certified supplies. The wood seized on August 24 satisfied FSC standards.”

Juszkiewicz believes that the Justice Department is bullying Gibson without filing charges.

“The Federal Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of U.S. law, but because it is the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law in India. (If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal.) This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.”
Now, remember, we noted in the earlier story that a similar raid a few years ago resulted in the feds filing charges against the wood specifically -- and not the company: United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms. If this all sounds familiar, it's quite similar to what we've seen with the feds seizing domain names. These involve "in rem" claims against property, as opposed to "in personam" claims against people or organizations. We've long been troubled by general seizure and forfeiture law in the US, which basically seems like a license for the US government to, at best, bully and at worst, steal from, anyone they don't like. So just as the US government is now claiming that it's not charging Puerto 80 with anything as it tries to keep its domains, the same thing appears to be happening here. The feds never actually accuse Gibson of violating any laws. They just say the wood is illegal and seize it.

Under seizure laws, no actual lawsuit ever needs to be filed. They can just seize, and later file for forfeiture, in which the government gets to keep what it seized. So they never actually file charges against the company, but just get to keep whatever was seized, claiming that the property itself is illegal or was used for illegal purposes. It's an amazingly Kafka-esque situation for those whose property was seized, and seems ripe for abuse. And, not surprisingly, there's a ton of evidence that law enforcement regularly abuses seizure and forfeiture laws.

Hopefully Gibson will continue to fight this, and draw some more attention to a system that really should be changed. I can understand seizure for the sake of holding onto evidence in an actual criminal trial. But outside of that, it seems difficult to justify the ability of the government to seize property and then claim it just gets to keep it, without filing any actual charges.

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  1. icon
    Stephan Kinsella (profile), 2 Sep 2011 @ 9:55am

    Hard to feel sorry for Gibson....


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