Civil Asset Forfeiture

Tucson Handyman Gets His Jeep Back After He Threatens to Fight the Forfeiture

The cops seized Kevin McBride's $15,000 car because his girlfriend allegedly used it for a $25 marijuana sale.


What happens when innocent people stand up to government bullies who use civil forfeiture laws to steal their property? In many cases, the bullies, unaccustomed to such resistance, fold like a cheap suit. That is what happened today in Tucson, where the government returned Kevin McBride's Jeep, which police seized in May after his girlfriend allegedly used it for a $25 marijuana sale.

Until last Friday, the Pima County Attorney's Office was demanding a $1,900 ransom for the safe return of McBride's lovingly restored Jeep, saying "an outright return of the vehicle is inappropriate in this case." But the day after the Goldwater Institute threatened to sue on McBride's behalf, arguing that Arizona's civil forfeiture law unconstitutionally requires property owners to prove their innocence, prosecutors changed their tune.

"Upon inquiry pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-4309(3)(a) & (b), remission is declared," says a letter dated August 21 from Deputy County Attorney Kevin Krejci, the same official who told McBride in an August 11 letter that he would have to pay $1,900 under a "mitigation" agreement to get his Jeep back. "The 2000 JEEP WRANGLER…is released from seizure for forfeiture. The seizing agency and any person holding property for the seizing agency are hereby authorized to arrange the release of the seizure for forfeiture on this property."

Goldwater Institute spokesman Mike Brownfield says "there was no explanation given." But I will go out on a limb and suggest that the government's swift reversal has something to do with the negative publicity and legal risk generated by a case like this one, in which McBride lost his only means of transportation and the basis of his livelihood as a handyman because he let his girlfriend take his Jeep to a convenience store so she could fetch him a cold soda while he was working. The cops claim she then sold marijuana to an undercover officer for $25. Although the charges against her were dropped, the Jeep remained in custody, accused of participating in criminal activity, because that is how civil forfeiture works.

Arizona law would have allowed McBride to challenge the forfeiture by arguing that he "did not know and could not reasonably have known" about the alleged illegal use of his property. But the burden would have been on him to prove that, and it would have required spending thousands of dollars on a lawyer, with no guarantee of winning, if the Goldwater Institute had not agreed to represent him for free. Law enforcement agencies count on those barriers when they extort money from innocent property owners like McBride, who naturally tend to give up when they discover that fighting the forfeiture will cost more than the bribe demanded by the government's lawyers, and in many cases more than the property is worth.

Did I mention that Arizona law enforcement agencies get to keep 100 percent of the proceeds from the forfeitures they handle? If the government sold the Jeep for $15,000 (which is what McBride estimates it is worth), local cops and prosecutors would have split the money. Even without risking a legal challenge, they would have gotten $1,900 for the price of a letter if McBride had done the sensible thing by surrendering. Multiply those ill-gotten gains by all the seizures that happen in Arizona, and you've got nearly $30 million to pad law enforcement budgets each year, a consideration that tends to warp policing priorities. While the public safety payoff from seizures like this one is zero, the profit adds up.

"Kevin isn't the only person who's been targeted by civil asset forfeiture schemes—and unfortunately, he probably won't be the last," says Goldwater Institute senior attorney Matt Miller. "The Goldwater Institute will continue to put pressure on states to reform or repeal these unfair laws—whether through legal action or through state legislatures amending these laws to require a criminal conviction."

[This post has been revised to clarify the timing of Krejci's letter.]

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  1. He should still sue. Don’t stop. Fuck them

    1. Maybe the Goldwater Institute will keep going anyway.

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    2. The case would be dismissed as moot. That’s why they gave it back to him, to avoid a court precedent that would prevent them from stealing the next Jeep

      1. Well, they alleged a constitutional violation. They might survive a mootness challenge by arguing that it’s an issue “capable of repetition, yet evading review.” I’d give it 50/50 in any given court.

        1. If a person involved becomes entangled in the forfeiture process, would their 4th & 5th Amendment rights be violated since the charges were dropped? Could he pursue recourse in this manner?

          1. No because technically the “person” is not entangled in the forfeiture process – only the property is. These cases are filed under names like “United States v. Forty-three Gallons of Whiskey” or “South Dakota v. Fifteen Impounded Cats” or “United States v. Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls”. They all work on the legal fiction that the inanimate property somehow violated the law and can be seized without implicating the owner.

            And, of course, not being a person, property has no rights so the 4th and 5th Amendments don’t apply.

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          There was no change in the actual law, so it would certainly be “capable of repetition, yet evading review.” This is unlike the NY gun control case last Court session where NY actually changed the law (for now).

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  2. “The 2000 JEEP WRANGLER…is released from seizure for forfeiture.”

    And the beat goes on. What a victory and a great day for liberty. Well, for the handyman anyway. Same shit will continue for the rest of us.

    1. “That’s a nice little forfeiture system you have there. Be a shame if anything happened to it. Come on, give the kid his Jeep back, there’ll be plenty more.”

  3. One of those people, we know from video, was the first person who was shot by Rittenhouse. That person has been identified by police as Joseph Rosenbaum, a white registered sex offender who was convicted of a sex crime with a minor and who was seen on video using the N-word near black militia members and taunting them to “shoot me, n***a.”

    Looks like Palio’s butt plug was shot the other night in Wisconsin

  4. Fantastic news for the Arizona man. Great job, Goldwater Institute!

    Civil Asset Forfeiture needs to go away. Now.

  5. Wasn’t CAF supposed to only take property that was paid for by ill gotten gains?

    1. And the Income Tax was supposed to only affect the top 2 percent of incomes. So, I imagine you’re right.

      Government grows. It’s what it does. People who don’t want government to grow aren’t incentivised to effectively grab political power.

  6. Now we need a Grand Jury to present a true bill against the cops Nd DA for conspiracy to committ grand theft auto. That should be enough to lose some badges and get a theiving lawyer disbarred.

    1. Ah… but who would convene such a grand jury. Quis custodiet, et cetera.

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  8. Dude looks like Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry days. No wonder they returned his car.

    1. More Sam Shepard to my eyes. If you’re going to look like a Hollywood type, those two aren’t bad choices. Beats looking like Steve Buscemi. (Who nonetheless is supposed to be just one hell of a great guy.)

  9. Sure the government wanted a 20 year old fix it up.

  10. BREAKING: Tucson handyman runs over former girlfriend with Jeep.

  11. The courts like to pretend that they safeguard the constitution, yet asset forfeiture is still legal, so I call bullshit.

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  14. One question: Where the hell did they get a value of $15k for a 2000 Jeep Wrangler? Kelly Blue Book puts the value at $6k under the most reasonable optimistic assumptions about the vehicle.

    1. The article describes the Jeep as “lovingly restored”. But maybe the owner is also including the value of tools kept in the truck for his handyman job?

      1. Could be the tools. I missed the “lovingly restored” part. That makes a big difference indeed. Thanks.

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  16. So when are Deputy County Attorney Kevin Krejci & the racketeering cops going to be hung for conspiracy & treason?

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