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Indiana law that allows law enforcement to seize vehicles of people not convicted of crime unconstitutional

Indiana law that allows law enforcement to seize vehicles of people not convicted of crime unconstitutional


An Indiana vehicle seizure law that allows police and prosecutors to seize vehicles before the owner has been convicted of a crime has been ruled unconstitutional.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled that seizing vehicles before an official forfeiture action violated the Constitutional right to due process.

“The Court concludes that the statutory provisions allowing for the seizure and retention of vehicles without providing an opportunity for an individual to challenge the pre-forfeiture deprivation are unconstitutional,” Stinson said in her ruling.

Indiana’s vehicle seizure law allows law enforcement to hold a vehicle for six months. Should prosecutors decide to file a forfeiture claim during that time, the vehicle is held until the criminal case that led to the forfeiture concludes, which can be months or sometimes years.

The class-action suit was filed last year against the City of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the Office of Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry. The office of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill represented the defendants in the case. The defendants have not said if they will appeal Magnus-Stinson’s ruling.

The lead plaintiff, Leroy Washington, had been arrested and charged with selling marijuana, obstruction of justice and and resisting arrest in September, 2016. His vehicle was seized even though the criminal case against him was still pending.

Plaintiffs requested that seized vehicles be returned if the owner had not been convicted of a crime.

Search and seizure reform has picked up steam in recent years, gaining support from both the political left and right.

Last year, a bill that would have allowed people to get their vehicles back while their cases were pending passed in the Indiana Senate but died in the House.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Nelson v. Colorado that states were required to return material that had been seized by the government if that person had their conviction overturned on appeal. Colorado law required refund claimants to prove that they were factually innocent of a crime before the seizure could be reversed, and the Supreme Court found that to be a violation of due process.

In Slate, Perry Grossman said the Colorado ruling gave the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to make a point. “Specifically, the majority likely wanted to take a strong and unified first step toward addressing the Due Process rights of a larger group: people whose property is seized without having ever been convicted of any crime,” Grossman wrote.

Reforming civil forfeiture laws also has wide support from the public. A 2014 Rasmussen poll found that 70 percent are opposed to seizing property when there has been no criminal conviction.

Orange County DA retaliated against subordinate, new claim alleges

Office of the Orange County District Attorney
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Orange County DA retaliated against subordinate, new claim alleges


Embattled Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has another scandal on his hands.

A veteran prosecutor, Karen Schatzle, has filed a claim against Rackauckas’ office after the district attorney allegedly retaliated against her when she chose to unsuccessfully run against an incumbent superior court judge. Schatzle is seeking $5 million in damages.

Schatzle claims she was ordered not to run against Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner in 2016 because Rackauckas had an “unwritten policy” discouraging his prosecutors from running against incumbent judges. Rackauckas ended up endorsing Steiner in that election over his own subordinate.

Schatzle’s claim states that “She was specifically told that DA Rackauckas did not want her to run for election against incumbent Judge Steiner, and, further, that her ‘career’ as a prosecutor would be damaged if she chose to run for judicial office against him.”

Steiner had been censured by the Commission on Judicial Performance for having sex with two different women in his chambers, asking prosecutors to give one of the women a job, and failing to recuse himself from a case involving a personal friend.

But that scandal wasn’t enough for Schatzle to prevail; she lost the election by almost 13 points. At one point during the race, Schatzle remarked that her decision to run was “career suicide.

Schatzle claims Rackauckas punished her by transferring her to the office furthest away from her home, giving her assignments that she was overqualified for, denying her multiple chances at promotions, and denying her requests for transfers.

Rackauckas released a statement in response, saying that Schatzle has the same job and responsibilities she had before running against Steiner.

“Since 2015, (Schatzle’s) work assignment has been `team leader’ in Branch Court Operations,” Rackauckas said. “During this time, she has maintained the same job title, same salary schedule and same job duties.”

As In Justice Today has previously reported, Rackauckas has drawn a challenger for his 2018 reelection bid in the wake of numerous scandals.

He recently declined to charge a police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager, despite the fact that it was the second time that the officer fatally shot an unarmed man.

Rackauckas generated national attention after a judge ordered his office removed from the death penalty prosecution of Scott Dekraai because of his office’s failure to turn over evidence. Earlier this month, the same judge said Dekraai could not be sentenced to death because of the actions of Rackauckas and his office.

Several investigators in his office also claim that the district attorney interfered in multiple investigations and engaged in cover ups when law enforcement broke the law. A January 2016, a special committee that Rackauckas himself set up concluded that there was a “failure of leadership” within his office.

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Yet another example of the danger of relying on eyewitness testimony

Ohio man freed after another man confesses to crime

Cuyahoga County Courthouse

Yet another example of the danger of relying on eyewitness testimony

Ohio man freed after another man confesses to crime


A Cuyahoga County man who was just about to get a long prison sentence has been released after another man confessed to the same crime.

Deontae Wilson was “minutes away” from being sentenced in July when word broke that another man may have been responsible for the crime. Wilson was released from jail in August after prosecutors determined he could not be guilty.

The case shows the dangers of relying purely on eyewitness testimony to convict someone. There was no physical evidence Wilson was guilty, but both victims identified Wilson as their attacker. The office of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley chose to prosecute based on their eyewitness testimony.

Wilson was convicted of 14 counts of aggravated robbery, felonious assault and aggravated burglary in February.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a man with a gun confronted a 32-year-old woman in her driveway in Cleveland and demanded money. The woman was then forced into the basement of her home, where the assailant and another man tied up the woman, her boyfriend and her nine-year-old daughter. The two men robbed the house and the woman was physically assaulted.

When the woman told her landlord what happened, she mentioned that the first man had a missing tooth. The landlord thought of Wilson, whose tooth is also missing. He pointed out a photo of Wilson on Facebook and the woman positively identified him as the man who attacked her.

She and her boyfriend both testified that Wilson was the man who attacked them, although the child was unable to say if it was Wilson. Common Pleas Judge Nancy Fuerst found Wilson guilty after a three day trial.

While Wilson was awaiting sentencing he told his lawyer that another man in the Cuyahoga County jail, who also had a missing tooth, had admitted to him that he was the one who had committed the robbery. The lawyer informed prosecutors and the judge on the morning Wilson was supposed to be sentenced, and the sentencing was delayed while the issue was investigated.

Three weeks after Wilson was originally scheduled to be sentenced prosecutors vacated the conviction and Wilson was let out of jail. The motion to vacate said Wilson “cannot be guilty of this matter beyond a reasonable doubt.”

For years experts have said eyewitness identification is unreliable, but prosecutors have continued to trust it.

The Innocence Project has said “Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70% of convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide.”

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