Monday, July 11, 2011

What's the next big trial?

Casey Anthony sure got everyone interested in the legal system for a week or two.  To keep that momentum rolling I have selected a couple of interesting trials from around the country to tell you about.  The first one doesn't have the nationwide allure of a dead toddler and the Miami nightclub scene, but it does involve a whole lot of money and has a similar theme of governmental overreaching.

The first case is United States of America v. Ten 1933 Double Eagle Gold Pieces.  In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the destruction of all Double Eagle coins shortly after they were minted due to economic concerns.  A very limited number of coins escaped destruction.  A massive Secret Service investigation during the 1940s and 1950s linked every known Double Eagle to one man, Isreal Switt, but the government decided not to prosecute him. 

Isreal Switt died in 1990.  His estate was probated without complication.  But in 2004 his daughter discovered a previously unknown safety deposit box that contained 10 Double Eagle coins.  She took the coins to the U.S. Treasury to have them authenticated, but the Government seized the coins and initiated forfeiture proceedings in federal court.  The trial started last Friday.

The Government argues that the coins were never released into circulation by the Treasury and were supposed to be destroyed, so any surviving coins must be stolen.  The daughter argues that there were several legal ways that Gold Eagles could have left the Mint in 1933.  The daughter also argues that the Government should have to prove that these particular coins were stolen, not just that all Gold Eagles must have been stolen.

The daughter has precedent on her side.  The only other Double Eagle to surface in the last 60 years occurred in 2000 when a British coin dealer was arrested by Secret Service agents during a sting operation.  The coin dealer was acquitted of all charges, then sued the government for the return of his coin.  As part of a settlement in that case, the government authorized an auction of the coin.  It brought $7.6 million. So the daughter is looking at a big payday in this case if she can prevail. The trial is supposed to conclude this week.  I'll try to follow up with a report.

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