Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Prosecutor Returns Car to Elderly Couple Suing State Over Asset Forfeiture Laws

An Arizona county attorney's office will return Terry and Maria Platt's car, admitting they were innocent, but the Platt's lawsuit isn't over.

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Institute for Justice

A Washington couple who filed a civil rights lawsuit challenging Arizona's asset forfeiture laws will get their car back five months after it was seized by police, but they're not dropping their suit.

Last week, the Navajo County Attorney's Office filed a notice that it was dropping its effort to forfeit Terry and Maria Platts' 2012 Volkswagen, which was seized this spring while their son was driving it through Arizona, even though the Platts owned the car and were never charged with a crime.

Earlier this month, the Platts, represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging that Arizona's asset forfeiture scheme is unconstitutional and that the seizure of their car was illegal.

Although the Platts' car is being returned, the Institute for Justice says their lawsuit will continue. "We're glad the Platts are getting their car back," Institute for Justice attorney Paul Avelar says. "But it does not change the fact that the Platts' rights have been violated or that their rights are still threatened in the future. The state can still pursue forfeiture against the car for up to seven years. We are still pressing this case forward to ensure the Platts get recognition and their rights are protected in the future, as well as the rights of all Arizonans."

As Reason reported, the Platts' son had borrowed the car and was driving back from Florida when he was pulled over by police for a window-tint violation. A subsequent search of the car found a small amount of marijuana and roughly $31,000 in cash. The son was arrested on money laundering charges, and the car and cash were seized under asset forfeiture laws, which allow police to seize property if there's probable cause that it is connected to illegal activity. However, no charges were ever filed against the Platts or their son.

Unable to afford a lawyer, the Platts filed a handwritten petition to the Navajo County Attorney's Office to get their car back, but the county attorney rejected their petition because the Platts had neglected to include four words, "under penalty of perjury," after their signatures. The county attorney filed a motion for an uncontested forfeiture of the car and never submitted the Platts' petition to the court.

In its latest filing, Navajo County Attorney's Office admits that it may have come to an "honest, mistaken conclusion" about the ownership of the car, mixing up the names of William Terance "Terry" Platt, the father, and Terance Shea Platt, his son. However, it still maintains that the seizure of the Platts' car was legal and justified under the circumstances, and that the Platts' petition was properly rejected. "A subsequent review of this matter and new information received since the time of the Platts' original, defective claim has caused the state to withdraw any claim in forfeiture to the 2012 VW Jetta," the county attorney wrote. The county attorney will still be pursuing forfeiture against the $31,000 in cash.

Avelar, however, finds the sudden discovery of "new information" less than convincing.

"They're sticking to their original position, insisting they did nothing wrong and they were perfectly justified to do this to the Platts and to anyone else in the future," Avelar says. "It's wrong, and we're going to put a stop to it. They were supposed to be investigating this for the last five months, but now, only a month after they get sued, they find new information?"

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  1. Stay the coursde and demand pain and suffering as well as legal costs…

  2. Procedures were followed…

    1. “extremely carelessly”, but followed.

  3. How long before a judge throws it out because now that they are getting their car back, they have no standing to sue any more?

    1. And the cash?

      1. I’m sure the judge can Comey around that inconvenient fact.

    2. They were deprived the use of their vehicle. They have standing to sue.

  4. Unable to afford a lawyer, the Platts filed a handwritten petition to the Navajo County Attorney’s Office to get their car back, but the county attorney rejected their petition because the Platts had neglected to include four words, “under penalty of perjury,” after their signatures.

    Kill yourself

  5. Does anyone have a link to the supreme court ruling that this “asset forfeiture” is in any way allowed under the fourth amendment? You know, charges, arrests, convictions, and all that jazz?

    1. By literal wording, the fifth amendment would preclude asset forfeiture.

      1. But what do the penumbras and emanations say (this week)?

      2. But the magic word CIVIL vs. criminal.

        1. nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

          Asset forfeiture as it stands is a taking of private properties sans compensation with an objective failure of any form of due process. Civil versus criminal is sophistry from people trying to justify the unconscionable.

          1. See my comments on the Palmyra case below.

            1. Like I said – sophistry. Property cannot commit a forfeitable offense. If it is not tied to an actual action taken by the owner, or inaction in the case of protracted abandonment, it is an attempt to evade propriety.

              I know full well the law claims otherwise, but it is a rank fiction created for the sole purpose of avoiding addressing the injustice being perpetuated under the color of law.

              1. Agreed.

      1. Part of the decision’s rationale:

        Our earliest opinion to this effect is Justice Story’s opinion for the Court in The Palmyra, 12 Wheat. 1 (1827). The Palmyra, which had been commissioned as a privateer by the King of Spain and had attacked a United States vessel, was captured by a United States war ship and brought into Charleston, South Carolina, for adjudication. Id., at 8. On the Government’s appeal from the Circuit Court’s acquittal of the vessel, it was contended by the owner that the vessel could not be forfeited until he was convicted for the privateering. The Court rejected this contention, explaining: “The thing is here primarily considered as the offender, or rather the offence is attached primarily to the thing.” Id., at 14. In another admiralty forfeiture decision 17 years later, Justice Story wrote for the Court that in in rem admiralty proceedings “the acts of the master and crew . . . bind the interest of the owner of the ship, whether he be innocent or guilty; and he impliedly submits to whatever the law denounces as a forfeiture attached to the ship by reason of their unlawful or wanton wrongs.” Harmony v. United States, 2 How. 210, 234 (1844) (emphasis added).

        1. I believe this sentence is the first declaration by the court that a person’s property could be considered an “offender,” subject to prosecution and confiscation:

          “The thing is here primarily considered as the offender, or rather the offence is attached primarily to the thing.”

      2. One thing I have never seen addressed by SCOTUS is what about asset forfeiture when the person is found not guilty, or not even charged in the first place.

        Even the BS rationale that they used in Bennis v Michigan (that goes all the way back to Palmyra) assumes that there was guilt established by someone using the property.

        But in this case, NO ONE was even charged, much less convicted of a crime in the first place.

        1. Agreed. Justice Story seemed to just make up out of whole cloth that “the thing is here primarily considered the offender.”

          Think about that. He’s just asserting, without any Constitutional justification that a “thing” can be an “offender,” an idea that violently upends the fourth amendment.

          And with that one sentence, he just casually drove a stake into the heart of criminal jurisprudence.

  6. “The state can still pursue forfeiture against the car for up to seven years.”

    Then if you sell the car in the intervening time and use it to pay a mortgage payment they will probably come after your home because of the intermingling of funds.

    Will someone please unplug me from the matrix.

  7. Although the Platts’ car is being returned, the Institute for Justice says their lawsuit will continue. “We’re glad the Platts are getting their car back,” Institute for Justice attorney Paul Avelar says. “But it does not change the fact that the Platts’ rights have been violated or that their rights are still threatened in the future. The state can still pursue forfeiture against the car for up to seven years. We are still pressing this case forward to ensure the Platts get recognition and their rights are protected in the future, as well as the rights of all Arizonans.”

    This is excellent. Always be watchful for the government office that “drops its case” hoping to deflect scrutiny of the policies that are still in place.

  8. So, “small amount” of weed + 31k = money laundering? Wait, what?

  9. Be careful if you have to play this game with police in Arizona. I personally know of a woman in her 60’s who lost her car over an accusation by capitol police in Phoenix that she was smoking marijuana. She voluntarily took the drug test and was told by the officer to call him in two weeks to recover her car. When she called she found that her drug test was indeed negative but that the courts had already confiscated her car and that there was no way she could have it returned. The police know that they can easily confiscate property from those who are unable to defend themselves in court. This has led to massive abuses in the US. The FBI figures suggest that police in the US now seize more property than all of the burglars in the US, combined, typically without any form of judicial oversight.

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