If you have questions about Forfeiture law, please call me for a free consultation.  I recently filed the Federal Class Action lawsuit of Washington v. Marion County Prosecutor, challenging Indiana’s vehicle forfeiture seizure law.  The Federal Judge agreed with my position, ruling that the Indiana forfeiture statute was unconstitutional, under the Due Process clause of the US Constitution. The Federal Judge also issued an injunction against against the Indianapolis Prosecutor ordering him to cease vehicle forfeiture.

I also co-authored the amicus brief for the United States Supreme Court case of Timbs v. Indiana, in which the Supreme Court held that Indiana’s attempts at forfeiture were unconstitutional under the Excessive Fines clause of the US Constitution.

Civil forfeiture is a legal fiction that allows the government to take action against inanimate objects regardless of whether the owner is charged with a crime. [1] Forfeiture traces its roots to Roman and medieval English law, but originated in Biblical and pre-Judeo-Christian practices. [2] At common law, an object that caused the death of a King’s subject, even if accidentally, was forfeited to the Crown as a deodand. [3] The value of the object was then used for charitable purposes or to pay for masses for the dead man’s soul. [4] Over time, Prosecutors began using forfeiture to obtain jurisdiction over property when violators of maritime law were overseas and could not be prosecuted. [5] Today, all States allow for forfeiture and there are over four hundred federal forfeiture statutes. [6]

Justice Thomas of the United States Supreme Court has explained: “This system – where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use – has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses. . . I am skeptical that this historical practice is capable of sustaining, as a constitutional matter, the contours of modern practice.” [7]

Randall Shepard, Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, wrote: “An important feature of many of these statutes is characterization of the process as civil forfeiture under which (by contrast to criminal forfeiture) a property owner need not be found guilty of a crime—or even charged—to lose permanently their cash, car, home or other property. The relative ease of effecting such forfeiture and the disposition of the assets have become a matter of public note.” [7]

In a case I recently handled, Judge Manion, a Federal Judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote: “in 2015, law enforcement took more property from Americans than criminals did . . . vehicle forfeitures are economically painful. Many Americans depend on cars for food, school, work, medical treatment, church, relationships, arts, sports, recreation, and anything farther away than the ends of their driveways. Cars extend us. Cars manifest liberty. A person released on bond, retaining a presumption of innocence, might suffer virtual imprisonment if he cannot regain his vehicle in time to drive to work.”   

If you have any questions about your case, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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[1] Serrano v. State, 946 N.E.2d 1139, 1141 (Ind. 2011). [2] Id. and Calero v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U.S. 663, 681 (1974). [3] Calero, 416 U.S. at 681. [4] Id. [5]  Serrano, 946 N.E.2d at 1141. [6] Id. [7] Leonard v. Texas, 137 S. Ct. 847, 848-849 (2017)(Thomas, concurring). [8] Serrano at 1141. 

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