Major ruling for Americans targeted for civil forfeiture

November 12, 2023
World Net Daily

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

The fights over civil forfeiture have been ramping up across America in recent years, fights in which people challenge the government's decision to come in and simply confiscate property, from houses to cars to cash, from them.

As the government's processes mostly involve no criminal charges, it's all a civil court fight and those property owners often have to spend thousands of dollars on lawyers to try to retrieve their property.

Now there's a change coming, apparently.

The Institute for Justice, which has run a campaign to battle those forfeiture agendas, explains the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that defendants in those cases, at least in that state, have a right to a jury trial.

In recent years, the organization explained, "prosecutors across Indiana had resisted efforts by property owners to have their civil-forfeiture cases heard by a jury of their peers."

But applying the Indiana Constitution, the state high court said property owners "in an action brought under Indiana’s civil forfeiture statute ha[ve] a constitutional right to trial by jury."

The court said, "the historical record ... strongly suggests that Indiana continued the common-law tradition of trial by jury in actions for in rem forfeiture of property."

And because Indiana’s system of civil forfeiture "is readily analogous to the traditional common-law forfeiture of property used in violation of the law," Indiana’s Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial.

Sam Gedge, the IJ lawyer who argued the case, said, "Today’s decision vindicates a fundamental constitutional guarantee. The right to a trial by jury of our peers is core to our system of justice. And for centuries, courts across the nation have confirmed the obvious: when the government sues to forfeit your property, you’re entitled to make your case to a jury."

The IJ earlier won the precedent-setting Timbs v. Indiana forfeiture case in which the government tried to make off with an expensive vehicle over a minor drug offense. It has handled nearly half a dozen other forfeiture cases in Indiana alone, as well as similar cases in other states.

WND reported on some of them only months ago.

Then, two court-approved consent decrees ended a years-long court fight over a program in Philadelphia where authorities would act as their own judges and confiscate properties – like vehicles and homes – from residents.

The IJ said the result meant that victims were paid compensation, the program was disassembled, and the money left over was given to local charities.

It took nearly a decade, but the IJ said a lawsuit originally launched by a Philadelphia family trying to save the family home has concluded with the city dismantling its "abusive forfeiture program."

"In the beginning of 2021, the Institute for Justice (IJ) secured final approval of two consent decrees to end a class action lawsuit on behalf of people who had homes, cash, and cars wrongfully seized. While one decree established reforms to prevent abuse in the future, the other created a $3 million fund to compensate forfeiture victims," the legal team explained.

Some 2,400 people got cash awards that averaged more than $1,400 and then the IJ chose various charities in Philadelphia to take the approximately $282,000 that was left unclaimed.

At the time, IJ lawyer Rob Frommer noted, "For years, Philadelphia seized and forfeited millions of dollars from individuals through a cruel and unjust legal process. It took a major federal class action lawsuit to bring the mistreatment to an end."

Other states where the forfeiture agenda is being battled include Texas and Nevada.

Many times the issue erupts when federal agents confiscate cash from travelers at airports. Traveling with cash is not illegal, but rules call for travelers to declare their cash above certain amounts.

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