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von Hofe v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Harold and Kathleen von Hofe’s, husband and wife, had a marijuana operation in their residence. Harold admitted that the operation belonged to him. Kathleen admitted that she had knowledge her husband was conducting the operation in the house. The federal government instituted a civil forfeiture action, and Kathleen asserted that the forfeiture violated the Excessive Fines Clause.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Mere knowledge that an illegal drug operation is occurring in one’s residence will not suffice to prove actual conduct of a conspiracy.

    Facts.

    A police officer and a federal DEA agent received a tip from a confidential informant and seareched Harold and Kathleen von Hofe’s residence. The police office found sixty-five marijuana plants, a scale with marijuana residue, several marijuana pipes, jars with marijuana, and other items associated with the cultivation of marijuana. However, the officer did not find large amounts of cash, firearms, or glassine bags in the residence. Kathleen admitted that her husband owned the marijuana plants and claimed that she was not involved in the marijuana cultivation. Likewise, Harold admitted that he cultivated marijuana, owned the plants, gave the marijuana to his son and his friends, and that Kathleen was not involved in the cultivation of marijuana. The State brought criminal charges against both Harold and Kathleen von Hofe. Harold pled guilty to the manufacture and distribution of marijuana. Kathleen pled guilty to possession of marijuana. The federal government initiated a civil forfeiture action against the couple’s residence, and Kathleen asserted the innocent owner defense, which the jury rejected. Subsequently, Kathleen asserted that the forfeiture violated the Excessive Fines Clause, and the district court rejected. Kathleen appeals the district court’s judgment.

    Issue.

    Whether the district court erred in rejecting Kathleen von Hofe’s claim that her one half interest in the residence violated the Excessive Fines Clause.

    Held.

    Yes, the district court erred in rejecting Kathleen von Hofe’s claim that her one half interest in the residence violated the Excessive Fines Clause.

     

    Discussion.

    In this case, Harold manufactured and cultivated sixty-five marijuana plants. He made the conscious and deliberate decision to conduct the operation in his residence. Further, although the forfeiture of the residence would result in an eviction of Kathleen, as it would destroy her “right to maintain control over [her] home, and to be free fro governmental interference,†Kathleen knew of husband’s conduct and did nothing. The court noted that Harold did not need Kathleen’s permission, as a joint owner of the property to conduct a marijuana operation in the residence. However, Kathleen knowledge of her husbands operation does not alone make her a coconspirator. Therefore, the forfeiture of Kathleen’s one half interest in her residence is an excessive fine.



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