Asset Forfeiture

Indianapolis Cops Violated the Constitution by Holding Cars for Six Months Without Filing Forfeiture Paperwork

Violations of the Fourth and 15th Amendment, judge says


Imagine China/Newscom

A federal judge in Indiana issued a sharp rebuke to civil forfeiture abuse on Monday, ruling that the Indianapolis Metro Police Department may no longer hold vehicles for up to six months before deciding whether to file official forfeiture paperwork.

Using asset forfeiture, police departments and federal law enforcement are often able to seize property—including cars, homes, cash, jewelry, and other valuables—if they say the property was used in a crime or was purchased with drug money. Though cops claim that forfeiture helps them target drug cartels and other big-time criminals, it is often used to seize small amounts of cash and often targets poor communities where people are less likely to have the resources to regain their assets through the legal system.

While police across the country can seize property without first getting a conviction, Indiana law lets cops go even further. They are allowed to seize vehicles and hold them for up to six months without even having to file forfeiture paperwork, leaving individuals who had their vehicles seized with no legal recourse whatsoever for long periods of time.

The case decided Monday was a class action lawsuit challenging those seizures, which plaintiffs said violated their right to due process, according to The Indianapolis Star.

"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," U.S. District Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled.

According to Justice Department data cited by the Star, Indiana State Police seized more than $2.2 million in personal property in 2014. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) seized roughly $48,022 in personal property that same year.

Monday's ruling only applies to vehicles seized by the IMPD, but further reforms to Indiana's civil asset forfeiture laws are working their way through the state legislature. In March, the state Senate passed a bill to require a criminal conviction before police could seize property through forfeiture. The bill would also require "clear and convincing evidence" that the property in question was used in a crime or purchased with the proceeds of a crime, effectively raising the legal standard that cops would have to meet when filing forfeiture actions. Those reforms, if passed into law, would put Indiana near the forefront of asset forfeiture reform.

Ten bills dealing with forfeiture were introduced during the 2017 session, but only one passed both chambers this year. That one calls for an interim study committee to examine Indiana's civil forfeiture laws and recommend changes.

A separate lawsuit challenging Indiana's forfeiture laws was filed in February by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm. In that suit, the plaintiffs say law enforcement groups must stop using forfeiture funds in their own budgets, citing the fact that the Indiana state constitution says "all forfeitures" must be committed to the state's school fund. Police and prosecutors say they use forfeited funds only to cover expenses, but the suit contends that local prosecutors have cut deals with cops to keep the proceeds of forfeiture actions.

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22 responses to “Indianapolis Cops Violated the Constitution by Holding Cars for Six Months Without Filing Forfeiture Paperwork

  1. Yes, I am very confident the thieves will adequately police themselves and approve reforms. I’m also confident a unicorn will bring me a case of micro brewed beer after work tonight…

    1. I’m wondering if a lawsuit against these turds personally will help teach them a lesson. Maybe for,violating their constitutional rights.

      1. wait, I’m getting waves of this decision from the future!

        Dismissed… Qualified immunity….not clearly established law….

        welp i guess that taught them a lesson…

      2. wait, I’m getting waves of this decision from the future!

        Dismissed… Qualified immunity….not clearly established law….

        welp i guess that taught them a lesson…

  2. Six months? They violated the Constitution by holding them for more than 24 hours.

    1. They violated the Constitution by seizing any property without a warrant based upon probable cause and then the 5th Amendment requires just compensation for property seized for public use.

      The government does not want to give people $500 cash in just compensation for $500 cash seized stolen.

  3. purchased with drug money

    Is this a specific example or a noteworthy distinction? Like, if I get $100K for a hit and spend $60K on a Mercedes Benz, they’re unable to seize that asset because it was blood money rather than drug money?

    1. People getting paid that much for a hit know how to launder their money properly.

      1. I hear Tide is the popular choice fr detergent when laundering money.

  4. Fourth and *Fifteenth* Amendment? No unreasonable search and seizure, and blacks have the right to vote?

    I think you probably meant the Fourth and *Fifth* Amendment. Please correct if so.

    1. Should be 5th and 14th. A textual spoonerism.

    2. “Please correct”?
      You must be new to REASON’s shitty posting board.
      CORRECT, indeed.

  5. A sharp rebuke and a five-spot will buy you a half dozen donuts.

  6. Oh please. I have it on good authority that the constitution doesn’t protect rights at all.

    1. Won’t stop a bullet.

  7. 15th amendment?

    I was trying to figure out how voting rights would be involved here. But I see in the article that it’s the 14th, which makes a lot more sense.

  8. Is it so fucking hard for some reporter somewhere to provide a link to the decision?

    You’re welcome.

  9. Cut a deal=theft.

    1. Cut a deal, spin the wheel!

  10. Civil forfeiture is unconstitutional as property and effects taken without warrant are protected by the 4th Amendment and property taken by government must be justly compensated.

  11. A lot of civil forfeiture procedures are abusive to the point they are governmental larceny. The command officers that permit these abuses should be prosecuted for larceny and go to jail for the abuses.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  12. Yes, but they saved them from driving thru all the construction that never ends around here.

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