United States District Judge Carter recently held that a seizure of the Mongols Motorcycle Club (“MMC”) mark would violate the organization’s First Amendment rights, as well as the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. The logo at issue – shown below from the Court’s opinion – features a Genghis Khan caricature on a motorcycle with the words “MONGOLS” and “M.C.” prominently displayed in the logo. Following a December 2018 trial, whereby the jurors found the Defendant Mongol Nation guilty of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering (relative to murder, attempted murder and distribution of methamphetamine), the Government proceeded with the forfeiture phase of the trial requesting seizure of the organization’s ammunition, body armor, and firearms, as well as the trademark rights appurtenant to MMC membership. Denying the Government’s request for seizure of the trademark, the Court first noted that “there is no doubt that the display of word marks or symbols on a body or leather vest is pure speech.” United States of America v. Mongol Nation, Case No. CR-13-0106 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 28, 2019). Further, “collective membership marks act as a symbol that communicates a person's association with the Mongol Nation, and his or her support for their views.” Id. Thus, the Court held that “the forced transfer of the legal rights associated with these symbols to the United States government presents immediate harms and chills the Mongol Nation's and its members' right to display the marks given the Government's threats and seizure attempts,” and therefore denied the seizure request on First Amendment grounds. Id.
Next, the Court also analyzed the Government’s request for seizure of the MMC mark under the Eighth Amendment, which “limits the government's power to extract payments, whether in cash or in kind, as punishment for some offense." Id. Pointing out that the trademark was “legally acquired via first use in 1969 and [was] legally maintained via continuous use,” and that it has “immense intangible, subjective value to the Mongol Nation and its members,” the Court held that a forfeiture of the rights associated with the mark would otherwise be harsh and grossly disapproportionate, and denied the Government’s request as violative of the Eighth Amendment.
The MMC trademark displayed in the Court’s opinion in United States of America v. Mongol Nation, Case No. CR-13-0106 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 28, 2019)