Vice Squad
Saturday, February 28, 2004
"Suffolk Halts Taking of Cars in D.W.I. Cases"

That's the headline to this story (registration required) in today's New York Times, brought to our attention by a generous Vice Squad reader. Suffolk is a county on Long Island. The police had been in the habit of seizing the cars driven by those accused of drunk driving, if those drivers already had a previous drunk driving conviction (or possibly a previous arrest: the article is ambiguous on this point.) But now the seizure law has been deemed unconstitutional by one state court trial judge, who "ruled that the seizure law was defective in large part because police officers, rather than some neutral person, were presiding over post-seizure hearings and deciding whether there had been probable cause for an arrest and seizure." At the hearings, if you wanted your car back, the burden of proof was on you to show that the car was driven without your permission or knowledge. The judge based his decision in part on the notion that the police force has a pecuniary interest in the outcome, so having a police officer in charge of the hearing does not exactly instill confidence in the neutrality of the tribunal.

Vice Squad's continuing difficulty with asset confiscations is that often they are applied to those who are accused, but not convicted, of crimes. In the drug arena, the majority of asset forfeitures occur in cases where no criminal charges are brought.

The linked NY Times article further reports that the neighboring county of Nassau had a statute authorizing the seizing of cars of first-time accused (but not yet convicted, of course) drunk drivers, but the Nassau law had been found unconstitutional on other grounds.

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