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A legal concept too important to be ignored
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Forsyth County News
Most of us will never have any interaction with the various groups that promote the concept of assisted suicide. We won’t call on them for help. We won’t donate money to them. We won’t volunteer. We won’t think about them, talk about them or even have reason to acknowledge their existence. For most of us, such organizations aren’t even the tiniest of blips on our personal radar screens.

So why should we care how the operational funds for one group, the Final Exit Network and World Right to Die Societies, are treated by the Forsyth County courts?

Because the legal principles involved in the case ruled upon by Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley last week are far more sweeping than the moral issues involving the group in question.

Bagley last week directed the state to release $330,000 to the organization that law enforcement had ordered “frozen” in February.

Under the state’s RICO Act, funds can be seized from what are suspected to be ongoing criminal enterprises, but only when a hearing is held in a timely manner in order to demonstrate that there is evidence to warrant such a seizure.

In this case, the hearing should have been held months ago. It never was, yet the state took the money from the organization and has refused to return it.

Four people alleged to be associated with the organization in some fashion have been charged with a variety of crimes, including assisted suicide and violation of the RICO Act, but have never been indicted nor tried.

In essence, Bagley said last week the state, powerful though it is, can’t simply take money from a group suspected of a crime without putting forth some legal justification for doing so.

The local case is but one of dozens that crop up around the country each year involving the validity of seizures made by law enforcement and prosecutors in advance of, and sometimes without, accompanying criminal trials. Since the introduction of the concept some 25 years ago as a means of fighting the drug trade, cash and/or assets have been seized in cases where no criminal charges were forthcoming, simply because their existence was suspicious.

Get stopped by a law enforcement agency with a briefcase full of cash in your trunk, and you may face the burden of proving it isn’t connected to an illegal activity if you want to keep it. In such cases, you have to prove your innocence rather than having the state prove your guilt.

That’s not the American way. Or at least it’s not supposed to be.

If law enforcement and prosecutors can make a criminal case against Final Exit that results in racketeering convictions by a jury, then they should move forward with all the power at their disposal to seize illegally gained assets.

But until there is a verdict of guilt, the presumption of innocence should remain, or the nation’s judicial system stands for nothing at all.

Thankfully there are jurists like Bagley who understand the concept.