FBI To Couple: Prove Your Innocence.

Jennifer and Paul Snitko have never been in trouble with the law.

Jennifer is an entertainment lawyer, and Paul is a retired aerospace engineer who in his career, has held multiple levels of security clearances.

The Snitkos had valuables they wished to secure, including a will, backup copies of their home computer’s hard drive, and some family heirlooms including jewelry, a fancy watch, and a class ring. They found a company called U.S. Private Vaults, in Beverly Hills, which offered them more convenience and better hours than a local bank.

However, a grand jury indicted the company on counts of conspiracy to distribute drugs, launder money, and avoid mandatory deposit reporting requirements, none of which had anything to do with the Snitkos.

The FBI raided U.S. Private Vaults based on the indictment.

This is where things go off the rails.

[T]he unsealed warrant authorizing the raid of U.S. Private Vaults granted the FBI permission to seize only the business’s computers, money counters, security cameras, and large steel frames that effectively act as bookshelves for the boxes themselves. Per FBI rules, however, the boxes could not be left unsecured in the vault after the raid had been completed, so agents had to take them into custody too.

For some reason the FBI thought that their policies allowed them to extend the breadth of the warrant which is illegal.

In fact, the FBI’s warrant for U.S. Private Vaults explicitly said it “does not authorize a criminal search or seizure of the contents of the safe-deposit boxes.”

Presumably, this meant that the FBI could not seize the boxes to begin with, but if they did seize them, the FBI could open them in order to determine the ownership of the box. At least that is what the FBI is saying. After all, it is not like the FBI did not have the records of who was renting what box. Even so, the warrant application says that if need by, the FBI would only open the boxes to determine ownership. Once ownership was established, the FBI would return the items.

In late March, customers were notified that their property had been seized (albeit illegally) and were told by the FBI they would have their property returned to them within a couple of weeks.

Now in late May, customers are still waiting for their property.

Fear not, because now the FBI is demanding that the customers come in and subject themselves to an “investigation” concerning the contents of the boxes.

Without submitting to an investigation, people will not get their property back, according to the FBI.

Enter into the fray the folks at the Institute for Justice, who are now suing the FBI on behalf of the Snitkas and other customers who have done nothing wrong. (The complaint can be found here.)

This is nuts.

The FBI openly defied a warrant and illegally seized the boxes. The FBI opened the boxes and is now demanding that people agree to an “investigation” to get their own property back.

So let’s see….

The FBI violated at least the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment.

People cannot be forced by the government to “prove” their innocence. It is the government’s responsibility to prove the guilt of people.

That is unless you are the FBI, then it appears that the laws on warrants and the Constitution doesn’t matter.

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