This story was originally published by the WND News Center.
An appeals court, accusing county officials of confiscating cars in order to "obtain proceeds from fees," has ruled that the scheme violated the rights of the owners by refusing to offer prompt court hearings on the seizure actions.
The report is from the Institute for Justice, which long has worked to unravel various government programs that are designed to confiscate property, even cash, from owners.
The new decision comes from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which said Wayne County violated the rights of Detroiters by not offering prompt court hearings within two weeks of their vehicles being seized.
"Wayne County regularly seizes and retains vehicles for months or longer without providing an opportunity for a hearing to challenge the seizure and get their vehicles back," IJ reported.
It sued to challenge the program in 2020.
The court found it takes "at least four months, on top of any previous delays (usually an additional four to six months)" for a car owner to get in front of a judge after their car has been seized.
The county was, the ruling said, violating the Constitution "when it seized plaintiffs’ personal vehicles—which were vital to their transportation and livelihoods—with no timely process to contest the seizure. We further hold that Wayne County was required to provide an interim hearing within two weeks to test the probable validity of the deprivation."
Worse, the court said, "that the county seized the vehicles in order to obtain proceeds from fees" and not for any health or public safety concerns.
A concurring opinion from Judge Amul Thaper charged, "Does this sound like a legitimate way of cleaning up Wayne County? Or does it sound like a money-making scheme that preys on those least able to fight it? To ask the question is to answer it."
The IJ reported the case was before the appeals court on interlocutory appeal for a single claim, so the case now returns to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for litigation of other claims by plaintiffs.
"Those claims include that the forfeiture scheme violates the Fourth Amendment and that the county’s routine forfeiture of vehicles from innocent owners like Robert [Reeves] (as well as Stephanie Wilson and Melisa Ingram, the other named plaintiffs in the suit) are unconstitutional," the IJ said.
Reeves narrated how his car was taken and held for six months.
"Because of today’s ruling, the next person the County targets will have a real opportunity to go to court and challenge the seizure of their car. And they won’t have to wait months or years to get it.”
Wesley Hottot, a lawyer at IJ, called the ruling "vindication."
Kirby Thomas West, also a lawyer for IJ, said, "The Wayne County forfeiture machine takes in over 1,000 cars every year. Now, Detroit car owners can at least rest assured that they will have a speedy opportunity to challenge a seizure when they find themselves victims of this forfeiture machine."