State Must Prove Right To Forfeited Property

( One state is ensuring that citizens don’t have their property confiscated illegally by the local government without proving that it has a right to keep that property.

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled recently that “the government must prove it is entitled to keep seized property.”

Civil forfeiture has been a hot-button topic for a few years now, with lawsuits being filed across the nation that challenges the actions of local governments. Some have claimed they have rights to property that was seized such as bank accounts, vehicles, cash and more.

The entire premise has been heavily criticized and scrutinized by many organizations, including the Institute for Justice, which defends victims of civil forfeiture all across America.

Indiana’s recent ruling at the high court level is at least a partial win for those fighting for the rights of everyday people. It wasn’t a complete victory for the Institute, as the ruling said that people who have their assets seized can’t then use those assets so that they can hire a lawyer to defend them in court.

As the Institute explained of the Indiana ruling:

“The practical ramification for many forfeiture victims is that while they can defend against forfeiture of their property in court, they may have to represent themselves.”

The case in question came from 2015, and was brought against a man named Terry Abbott. According to the Institute, Abbott tried to hire a lawyer to defend him in his forfeiture case.

However, “because the government had seized his savings, he could not afford to keep paying his attorney and so was left defending against the action himself.”

One of the lawyers for the Institute, Marie Miller, explained further:

“Mr. Abbott is like many property owners who cannot afford to hire an attorney to fight for their rights. This decision allows forfeiture cases to remain woefully lopsided: The state with all its resources on one side and an unrepresented, oftentimes-impoverished property owner on the other.”

This is truly a shame for any victim of civil forfeiture. Not only do they have to go through the unfortunate and devastating circumstance of having their property seized, but then they can’t even afford to hire a lawyer to defend them in court, simply for the reason that their assets were seized.

Some recent cases involved the government confiscating tens of thousands in equity a homeowner had in their property simply because they failed to pay a few hundred dollars in taxes.

Others involved the government seizing and keeping an SUV that was involved in a minor drug crime. Many other cases involve taking advantage of travelers, who have had cash taken from them, even when they’ve documented why they have the cash — such as paying for medical expenses.

Confiscation at airports is common, and the Institute for Justice has cases that are pending against the Transportation Security Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration over such cases.

Some states, as the result of actions by the Institute, have completely stopped their own forfeiture programs, while others have imposed some strict limits on what the programs allow the government to do.