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United States v. Sixty Acres in Etowah County

    Brief Fact Summary. An abused wife faced a forfeiture proceeding because of her husband’s drug activities.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A generalized fear of persecution, which does not amount to duress, will not be considered lack of consent to illegal activities to stop forfeiture.

    Facts. Evelyn Ellis owned property on which she lived with her husband, Hubert Owen Ellis. Mr. Ellis used drugs and was convicted of selling drugs on the property. His wife was afraid of him because of his previous acts of violence, including the murder of his previous wife. The government sought forfeiture of the property under a statute that provided for civil forfeiture of real property to the federal government if the property is used to commit, or to facilitate the commission of, an illegal drug transaction unless the owner did not know or consent to the illegal activity.

    Issue. If a person has a generalized fear of persecution, will that be sufficient to evidence lack of consent to illegal activities?

    Held. No.
    The evidence shows that the husband induced fear and anxiety in his wife. However, her generalized fear of persecution from her husband does not allow her to escape forfeiture because she consented to his illegal acts. She does not meet the requirements of duress.
    Duress can be used as defense to an unlawful act if the person is under an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury, has a well-grounded fear that the threat will be carried out, and has no reasonable opportunity to escape.
    The wife had numerous opportunities to leave or call the police about her husband’s illegal activities. She does not meet the standard for duress. She only had a generalized fear, which is not enough for duress. She cannot use it as a defense to justify her consent to her husband’s conduct.

    Discussion. Domestic violence, with nothing else, will not be enough to prove lack of consent to narcotics crime. The abused spouse will lose her home unless she can meet the standard for dure


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