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Civil Asset Forfeiture Victim Gets Vehicle Back after Six Years

ruffa-jane-reyes-dlGhQPIstkQ-unsplash-300x200In Massachusetts, a woman’s car was seized under civil asset forfeiture laws without her having a clue why. Melinda Harris let her son Trevice borrow her car in March of 2015. The police department of Berkshire County had her son under suspicion of peddling drugs. Her car was seized under the civil asset forfeiture law of the state because of her son being suspected of the crime. But Melinda had no knowledge of any of this until her car was taken away. 

She wasn’t the solitary victim of mishandled civil asset forfeiture cases. Many average Americans have their property unrightfully taken from them under suspicion of the property being used to commit criminal acts. All the states have civil asset forfeiture statutes, most of them, largely favorable to law enforcement agencies. 

The Institute for Justice gave the laws on state forfeitures in Massachusetts an underwhelming F. This means the state’s statutes on civil asset seizures are some of the worst statutes in the country. The police department and other offices need only surpass the lowest bar through establishing probable cause to take away an individual’s property. The proceeds from properties seized also go to the law enforcement agency almost completely. 

It’s hard to find details on properties seized by law enforcement; reports are nearly nonexistent. The law only stipulates that police produce records in cases of controlled substances abuses. No annual civil asset seizure reports are required.

In fact, to get data about the revenue raked by the state from its civil forfeitures, the Institute for Justice had to make a request under the Massachusetts Public Records Law to get accounting reports about the state’s profits. Even then, they were only given estimates of the revenue. 

These combined factors sometimes compel victims of asset forfeiture to feel hopeless in pursuing the retrieval of their property. When the law seems to favor the police—when the burden to prove you are innocent by getting your property back lies on your shoulders—you are most likely to bend under the weight. According to the Institute for Justice, the estimated cost of hiring legal representation to get your property back is $3,000. Many individuals in this dire position end up letting go of their properties instead of spending even more hard-earned dollars on a lawsuit.

Although fighting to get your assets back can be daunting, Melinda Harris took on the task to fight for what is rightfully hers. This grandmother from Massachusetts persevered to get her car back, often saying that she is not a criminal—just a regular American that the law has taken advantage of. With the help of a pro-bono civil asset forfeiture attorney from the Goldwater Institute, she finally received word from the law enforcement that her car is going to be returned to her. It was six years too late, but she was still glad it’s happening, news sources say.

Unfortunately, her son passed away in 2018 due to unrelated causes from the police’s suspicion. Getting her car back this year is a good omen for her, however. She is planning to give the vehicle to her grandchildren because it is one of her properties that holds value. Up to the end of her dilemma, she maintained that civil asset forfeiture laws victimize regular working-class Americans more than it traps drug lords and other big scale criminals. This is the very debate that is currently being held by state lawmakers all over the country, reducing the chances of this happening to another unsuspecting grandmother. 

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney

Have police or seized your property using civil forfeiture? Do you need help getting it back? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with an seasoned civil asset forfeiture attorney. There are no attorney fees in cash seizure cases unless your funds are recovered.

Sources: 3.19.21 IoJ Massachusetts CAF, 3.19.21 CAF Vehicle Returned Six Years Later

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