In 2014, law enforcement seized Petra Henderson’s Harley-Davidson because her husband was driving it while intoxicated and with a suspended license. Petra has spent the last four years attempting to get her bike back. Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the original seizure of the bike.
On April 26, 2014, Petra and her husband, Mark, went on a bar crawl near their home in Robinson, Crawford County. Petra was the designated driver, and they took her Harley-Davidson trike. She had bought the trike in 2010 for $35,000 and was still paying it off in 2014.
After visiting the last bar of the night, Petra says Mark got on her trike and refused to let her drive. She claims he was combative and she was not able to physically remove him from the bike and take control of it herself.
They argued outside the bar, and Mark gave her an ultimatum: either get on the back of the trike or walk home. It was only 12 blocks from the bar to their home—a three to five minute ride. Seeing no alternative, Petra eventually got on the trike.
Police saw the Harley swerve as Mark drove it. He was arrested in the driveway of their home. His blood-alcohol content was .161 percent, more than double the legal limit. His license had been revoked because of an earlier DUI.
The police seized Petra’s Harley under civil asset forfeiture procedures. Civil asset forfeiture is the legal process where property suspected of involvement in a crime is seized by law enforcement even if its owner is not charged with a crime. In many states, the proceeds from civil asset forfeiture go to law enforcement, leading to accusations of “policing for profit.”
In the original ruling, Crawford County Circuit Court Judge Christopher Weber explained why upheld the trike’s seizure. “The entire issue is whether Ms. Henderson gave consent to Mr. Henderson to drive this motorcycle, and it appears to me in this situation that actions speak louder than words,” he said. “It’s not as if they were out on the interstate 50 miles from home where it would be impossible for her to find another way home.”
While Petra’s lawyer didn’t disagree with Weber’s argument, he said the seizure of a $35,000 vehicle was an excessive punishment for the crime and violated the Eighth Amendment. In 2016, Weber’s ruling was overturned, but law enforcement appealed. By 2018, the case had made its way to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Petra’s lawyer, James Campion, told the supreme court justices “the thing that Petra did wrong that night was exercise bad judgment. The facts show that she was arguing with her husband in the parking lot … as to whether he should drive or not. … We would submit that under the facts of this case, the forfeiture of Petra Henderson’s motorcycle was an excessive fine.”
Although the supreme court upheld the forfeiture, two justices dissented. One of them, Justine Anne Burke, commented that “In real life, what is she supposed to do? Drag him off the motorcycle? So what kind of consent is that?”
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.