Citizen Gets Her Seized Car Back
A Victory Against Civil Forfeiture Abuse
Good news! Here is a followup to our previous article on this subject. These excerpts from an AP report tell of a pro-freedom, pro-citizen victory against the government.
Ex-deputy gets seized car returned, judge to consider challenge
by John Curran A woman whose car was seized after her son was caught selling marijuana from it won a pair of legal victories Friday.
A judge ordered it returned and agreed to hear a countersuit she filed claiming that New Jersey's civil forfeiture law is unconstitutional.
Carol Thomas, 44, of Millville, a former Cumberland County sheriff's deputy, says police and prosecutors engage in legalized bounty hunting when they seize property from citizens and keep it for use by government agencies.
Thomas and her lawyers say statutes that permit the seizure of property from people who haven't been charged with a crime - and the conversion of those assets by law enforcement agencies - have corrupted the justice system. Instead of the impartial pursuit of justice, law enforcement agencies sometimes decide who to prosecute based on how much of the person's property they believe they can seize, they contend.
"I've won my case," she said. "Now, I want to make sure the state stops cashing in on the property of other innocent owners."
Her case began in March 1999, when her 17-year-old son, Rex, was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover agent. He eventually entered a guilty plea and was fined and sentenced to house arrest.
Thomas, then a seven-year veteran of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department, was never charged with a crime. She says she had no idea her son was using her 1990 Ford Thunderbird to deal drugs out of, and that no drugs were found in the car itself.
But the state filed a forfeiture claim - titled State of New Jersey v. One 1990 Ford Thunderbird - and took the car. Thomas went to court and paid a $1,500 bond to get it back, but the state kept the title.
Thomas' case attracted the attention of the Institute for Justice, a law firm in Washington, D.C., that takes up the causes of citizens involved in property rights disputes with the government.
Since 1984, when federal laws governing civil forfeiture were changed, federal agencies have collected more than $7.3 billion, according to the group.
On Friday, Deputy Attorney General Ronald Epstein told Superior Court Judge Thomas Bowen that the state wanted to drop its case against Thomas -- Epstein tried to claim it was because of the low value of the car, even though the car's value has been well known for a long time.
"It's not worthwhile for the state to continue with this case," Epstein said.
He urged Bowen to dismiss the countersuit as well, saying that since the state was dropping its forfeiture case against Thomas, she had no legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of the statute.
But Scott Bullock, an Institute for Justice attorney representing Thomas, said she should be allowed to do so on behalf of others in her position.
Judge Bowen agreed. Epstein's ploy to evade the question failed.
"The question presented is a substantial question which ought to be decided and ought to be addressed," he said. No date was set for a hearing on the case.
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