Kim Dotcom Asks US Supreme Court Not To Allow US Government To Steal All His Stuff Without Due Process
from the due-process-matters dept
Over the past few years we've covered what may seem like a side issue in the many legal issues facing Kim Dotcom, but it's an important one: is the US able to legally take all of his money and stuff, despite (1) him not being found guilty of anything and (2) that stuff not being anywhere near the US? As we've said, even if you think Dotcom is guilty of horrible crimes and should rot in jail, how the US is going about taking his assets should concern you massively. The fact that courts have blessed the DOJ's actions doesn't make it any less concerning.
On Friday, Dotcom (along with some powerhouse legal help) asked the Supreme Court to review this issue. The real issue here is one that we've covered a lot in other contexts: civil asset forfeiture, in which the US seizes and sues stuff rather than people. That's why this lawsuit is not actually against Kim Dotcom (there are other such lawsuits), but rather the United States v. All Assets Listed in Attachment A (no, really, that's the case). Of course, "Attachment A" is all of Dotcom's assets, mostly in Hong Kong. But the situation with Dotcom takes the normal questions about asset forfeiture and adds layer upon layer of complexity.
There are three specific issues that Dotcom is asking the Supreme Court to review, and all are important here. The first is whether or not a US court can allow for asset forfeiture for assets that are outside the US and outside of US government control. As the dissent pointed out in the appeals court ruling in this case, a federal court issuing a ruling is supposed to be a binding ruling, not an advisory ruling. And if the assets are held outside the US and not under the jurisdiction of the US courts, the ruling can't be binding.
The second two issues are connected: and it's basically the question of whether the courts were right in saying that the federal government could take Dotcom's stuff and that Dotcom could not protest, because he was "a fugitive." Of course, he's not a "fugitive." He's just fighting extradition to a place he's never been. He isn't running away and is going through the full legal process he's entitled to in New Zealand. That's not someone hiding from the US, it's someone who is following the basic rules of due process, which the US wishes to deny him. The specific questions are at what stage of the process he can be declared a fugitive and the other is whether or not intent needs to be shown.
As we have noted repeatedly, the Supreme Court rejects most requests to hear cases, but the lawyers here (Dotcom's long-term lawyer Ira Rothken along with legal giant Quinn Emanuel) have done a good job demonstrating real circuit splits in appeals courts on each of the three questions, which is often important in convincing the Supreme Court to actually take a case. As the filing notes:
This Court has previously admonished that the “harsh sanction” of fugitive disentitlement in a civil forfeiture action is “most severe and so could disserve the dignitary purposes for which it is invoked,” because it “foreclos[es] consideration of claims on the merits.” ... The Court noted that it “ha[d] held it unconstitutional to use disentitlement similar to this as punishment for rebellion against the United States,” but left open the question of “whether enforcement of a disentitlement rule under proper authority would violate due process.” ... Nonetheless, a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit affirmed civil forfeiture based on fugitive disentitlement.
I imagine that the federal government will insist there's no reason for the Supreme Court to weigh in here, but hopefully the court decides to review the case. Again, even if you dislike Dotcom or think he's guilty of a "megaconspiracy" to infringe on copyrights, the due process questions around civil asset forfeiture should concern you -- and hopefully they concern the Supreme Court.