SW Legal studies in Business

Property Seized in Drug Busts Must Be Subject to Prompt Proceedings
Description

Appeals court held that the state of Illinois, which allowed over three months before requiring proceedings to determine the fate of property such as cars taken by police in a drug bust, must be subject to administrative proceedings more quickly to possibly allow the owner to regain possession of the property.

Topic Criminal Law
Key Words

Due Process; Property Seizure; Drug Forfeiture

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Chicago police, acting under the Illinois Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act, seized property belonging to plaintiffs. The Act permits the seizure of vehicles, aircraft, boats and money involved in drug crimes. Plaintiffs contended their rights were violated because there were not given a prompt, post-seizure, probable cause hearing. The trial court dismissed the action, ruling they had no right to such hearing. Plaintiffs appealed.

Decision

Reversed and remanded. Due process requires some sort of mechanism to test the validity of the state’s keeping of the property. State process holds that when the police seize property they must, within 52 days, notify the state’s attorney of the seizure and the reasons for it. If the state wishes to claim the property, it must file forfeiture proceedings within 45 days, so 97 days can elapse between seizure and judicial forfeiture proceedings; longer if the property is worth less than $20,000. When people have their cars seized by the police, it makes life difficult. The district court, listening to the parties in the case, should fashion an appropriate procedural administrative mechanism to allow plaintiffs to move quickly to reclaim their property, such as by posting a bond, unless it must be retained by the police specifically as evidence related to a crime. If it is later determined that the property will be permanently held by the state, then it can be relinquished by the owner at that time.

Citation

Smith v. City of Chicago, ---F.3d--- (2008 WL 1913619, 7th Cir., 2008)

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