The American Honda Finance Corporation has filed a lawsuit against the city of Revere, Massachusetts, alleging its constitutional rights were violated in 2016 when the Revere Police Department seized a Honda Civic using civil asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture is the legal procedure whereby law enforcement agencies may take possession of property if it is suspected of being involved in a crime. In most states, neither a criminal conviction nor even criminal charges are needed before property is taken. While there are few restrictions or oversight on the procedure in most of the country, Massachusetts is one of only two states—the other being North Dakota—to earn an F grade from the libertarian Institute for Justice for its civil asset forfeiture laws.
In Massachusetts, only a very low standard of proof—probable cause—is needed for property to be seized. Up to 100 percent of the profits from seizures are retained by law enforcement agencies, which use the proceeds to fund their own operations. This, critics argue, gives police a monetary incentive to seize property. Finally, law enforcement agencies are not required to produce comprehensive reports of property seized, meaning there is little oversight or transparency on the state’s forfeitures.
Michael Lushan of law firm Lushan, McCarthy, and Goonan in Brookline, Massachusetts filed the case for American Honda. Lushan argues that the actions of Revere PD violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Fourth Amendment prohibits seizures and searches that are unreasonable, while Lushan argues that the vehicle was seized without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Honda Civic was seized in December 2016 and was sold and retitled in May 2017. At the time of seizure, American Honda held a lien on the vehicle. When the Civic was resold, American Honda’s lien was not recorded on the title.
“It is beyond debate that the government cannot deprive plaintiff (or anyone) of property by unreasonable seizure and/or without first providing for notice and a hearing,” wrote Lushan. “Yet, that is exactly what occurred here, and exactly what is sanctioned by an outdated, facially unconstitutional Massachusetts State statute, which does not recognize that duly perfected security interest and lien in a vehicle is a constitutionally protected property right.”
In his filing, Lushan writes that Revere PD “detained it [the vehicle] without notice to HONDA and without a warrant or exception to the warrant requirement.” Lushan argues that a lienholder is constitutionally entitled “to notice and an opportunity to protect its rights.”
This case was filed just a week before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision that may rein in the use of civil asset forfeiture across the country. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment applies to states, meaning that the police can no longer, for example, seize someone’s house if a small amount of narcotics were sold on the premises.
American Honda is seeking a judgment that says Revere is liable “for all damages and attorney’s fees suffered and incurred by HONDA” as well as seeking a declaration that finds “Revere’s seizure to be in violation of the Massachusetts and U.S. constitutions.”
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.