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.