U.S. Supreme Court

Are owners of cars seized because of relatives' arrests entitled to probable cause hearing? SCOTUS will decide

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether the “innocent owners” of cars seized because of the arrests of their relatives are entitled to a probable cause hearing before forfeiture proceedings begin.

At issue is whether a probable cause hearing is required under the due process clause, according to the cert petition. The Supreme Court agreed to decide the issue in consolidated cases involving Halima Tariffa Culley and Lena Sutton.

Culley’s 2015 Nissan Altima was seized when her 23-year-old son Tayjon was arrested for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana during a February 2019 traffic stop in Satsuma, Alabama, AL.com reported in October 2019. Sutton was separated from her spouse and staying at a friend’s house when her car was seized during a drug trafficking arrest in Leesburg, Alabama, in February 2018, AL.com reported in May 2019.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta ruled that the forfeiture proceeding provided due process, and no hearing was required beforehand. Other federal appeals courts have required a pretrial hearing to determine whether seized assets will likely be subject to forfeiture.

Alabama courts eventually found that Culley and Sutton were innocent of any wrongdoing, but they were deprived of the use of their vehicles for 20 months in Culley’s case and 12 months in Sutton’s case, according to a March 23 press release by the Rutherford Institute announcing the group’s amicus brief in the case.

The Rutherford Institute called such forfeitures “a modern-day form of highway robbery which empowers police to seize and keep private property (cash, jewelry, cars, homes and other valuables) they ‘suspect’ may be connected to a crime.”

The cases are Culley v. Attorney General of Alabama and Sutton v. Town of Leesburg, Alabama.

The SCOTUSblog case page is here.

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