Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The New Trend of Abusive Asset Forfeitures

There is a good article in the New Yorker called "Taken" by reporter Sarah Stillman. It cronicles the current abuses of civil forfeiture laws by federal and state prosecuting authorities across the country. By engaging in the legal fiction of suing your property, they effectively rob you of any workable due process rights. In the past year, I have had clients sued, technically their cars were sued, in Federal court alleging their cars were part of a title laundering scheme where over 200 cars were involved. The cars are being sued as proceeds of the criminal operation. Two things upset me about this suit. The first thing is that they are targeting the old cars of one of my not-well-off people when they should be targeting the "proceeds" my clients and the others paid the alleged wrongdoer. It's like blaming the victim for a crime. The second thing that bugs me is that I tried to alert authorities to flaws in the mechanics title statute 20 years ago. I even sued the state of Indiana for a client claiming the mechanics lien statute was unconstitutional. My suit claimed that the statute that provided for the state to issue a mechanic's lien title gave the owners and lienholders notice of claim but did not provide them an opportunity to contest the claim in a neutral forum before property deprivation. If they would have fixed the law, this suit wouldn't exist. Prior to filing suit, I contacted counsel at one or two major lenders and told them what I had found out about a scam to get around purchase money loans with bogus mechanic's liens, but the attorneys for the lenders couldn't be bothered. Now the U.S. attorney is coming down on poor people who are just looking for inexpensive transportation to get to work, and the beneficiaries of this action by the US Attorney will presumably be the big auto lenders. But they really won't be, because some of these lenders have filed appearances to avoid having their liens impaired in the secondary transactions where the current owners of the vehicles are the borrowers. I don't know what really the US attorney is expecting to accomplish. Many of these cars are at least 10 years old. I would be surprised if the average wholesale value at this point is over $1000-2000. It's going to cost that much to process the cars through the system. Still, a $1000 to $2000 car is important to someone with no money and no other way to work. The bottom line is that the US attorney should have gone after the alleged wrongdoer for the conspiracy to alter the titles, but suing over 200 automobiles was a big mistake. There are now up to 200 people filing pleadings in the case to protect their interests in their cars, most of which aren't worth more than a couple thousand dollars. The case will cost more in US Attorney's office and court personnel time than it will ever recover, and any recovery made will be at the expense of poor people,making them even poorer.

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