Case Challenges Arizona’s Civil Forfeiture Laws

A new challenge has been mounted contesting the legality of Arizona laws which allow police and prosecutors to seize property without proving to a judge it was used for a criminal purpose.

The case involves Terry and Maria Platt of Washington who loaned their car to their adult son, Shea, to drive to Florida. Shea was stopped by he Arizona Department of Public Safety earlier this year near Holbrook and arrested after police found a small quantity of marijuana and about $31,000 in the vehicle.

To date, Shea hasn’t been convicted of anything, but Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon is moving to seize the cash and the vehicle.

Attorney Paul Avelar of the Institute for Justice is challenging that action — and not just because he said the couple knew nothing about the drugs. He said the law allowing prosecutors to take the car absent any criminal conviction is flawed.

“The government officials have a profit incentive conflict of interest to seize and then forfeit as much property as possible because they get to keep, by law, of to 100 percent of what they seize and forfeit,” Avelar said.

Prosecutors have defended the civil forfeiture laws, saying it helps deny organized crime of the profits of their activities, even if they can’t obtain a conviction. But Avelar sniffed at that comparison with the case he is now handling.

“Do Terry and [Maria], the elderly 74- and 77-year-old retired couple in eastern Washington, sound like a cartel or cartel members to you or to anyone who’s given a second’s worth of thought to this issue?” asked Avelar.

Carlyon did not return requests for comment.

This is the second challenge to Arizona’s forfeiture laws. The American Civil Liberties Union has a similar case pending in federal court against the Pinal County sheriff and attorney.

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