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Novel Asset Forfeiture Attempt In Racketeering Case

In a criminal prosecution, the federal government can seize assets deemed to be proceeds of federal crimes. They can also seize assets that were used to facilitate federal crimes. The government suggests that this power is used to improve public safety and security and to prevent future criminal activity by criminal organizations. In practice, asset forfeiture can be seen as way to punish family members and people associated with individuals who are convicted of crimes. The power to force the forfeiture of assets is one that should watched carefully by those concerned with criminal justice.

The federal government is attempting an interesting form of asset forfeiture in California. As part of a racketeering conspiracy case against an organization known as the Mongols Motorcycle Club, the federal government is seeking the forfeiture of the logo used by the group. The forfeiture of intellectual property rights was attempted by the government against this same group in 2011. That attempt was stopped by a federal judge who ruled that the prosecution was directed toward individuals, not the group as a whole, so forfeiting the logo was inappropriate. Federal prosecutors apparently took that as a challenge and decided to charge the group as a conspiracy. 

Federal prosecutors must make a showing that the logo is somehow used to further criminal activity. The group's criminal defense attorneys are expected to argue that they have a First Amendment right to use the logo. The outcome of the case could have an impact on the intellectual property rights of groups who become associated with criminal prosecutions.

Source: ABA Journal, "Prosecutors seek forfeiture of motorcycle gang's logo in racketeering case," by Debra Cassens Weiss, 2 June 2015 

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