Vice Squad
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
New York City Returning Cars It "Borrowed"

Legal niceties can be soooo tiresome. Some smarty-pants judges told New York City that it wasn't respecting the "due process" rights of the owners of cars that were seized from accused (but not convicted) individuals. That was in September, 2002. In January, 2004, another federal know-it-all judge suggested that hearings where those car seizures could be challenged were needed, pronto. Turns out NYC is better at taking cars than holding hearings, so they are now trying to return the cars, some 6,000 of them. If I were an owner, I wouldn't hold out for a car wash, oil change, and full tank of gas.

According to the New York Times article (registration required) sent to Vice Squad by an attentive reader, "The vehicles had been seized from suspects in a wide range of offenses, including drunken driving, patronizing prostitutes, and crimes involving guns or drugs."

The rules governing such seizures in the future, as ordered by one of those activist judges, include a requirement that the suspect receive a "request for hearing" form at the time the vehicle is seized, and that the hearing be held within ten business days of the request. Further, the hearings themselves "should address three issues, [the Judge in the January ruling] wrote: whether probable cause existed for the arrest, whether it is likely that the city would prevail in an action to forfeit the vehicle, and whether it is necessary for the car to remain impounded to ensure its availability as evidence. The judge said the department would have the 'burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence as to all three issues.'" So the rule of law wins one in NYC.

The Times article concludes with updates from the New York counties of Nassau and Suffolk, which figured in a previous Vice Squad post on asset forfeiture:

"The Nassau County Legislature voted unanimously last night for an amendment to allow a seizure only after a conviction. The amendment would also require hearings in which owners can seek to get cars returned, especially if the owner is not the arrested driver, and in hardship cases in which other people need to use the car. Legislators said the changes should satisfy the courts, which found the existing law unconstitutional.

In Suffolk County, Legislator Cameron Alden has proposed a change that would entitle car owners to seek a hearing before an independent hearing officer, instead of the current procedure of applying to a police officer, which a judge has struck down as unfair."

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