Civil asset forfeiture strikes again
Civil asset forfeiture has long been a sore spot for criminal justice reformers. Not only does the practice encourage law enforcement officials to seize property even when no crime has been committed – and never return it – it creates legal situations that turn common sense on its head.
Consider this infuriating case from Kansas:
Mr. Martinez bought the classic car [a 1959 Corvette] in 2016, went to register it in Kansas, and [Kansas Highway Patrol] discovered there were VIN issues. The Kansas Highway Patrol then seized the car even though Mr. Martinez was unaware of those issues. In fact, the government’s attorney admits Mr. Martinez is innocent. But, instead of returning the classic car, the government has spent years in court working to destroy the Corvette.
“The government should not get to destroy an innocent person’s car.”
After acknowledging Mr. Martinez’s innocence, the Kansas Highway Patrol still argues that the vehicle must be taken from Mr. Martinez as “contraband” and has spent years trying to demolish the vehicle.
How on earth can the cops insist on destroying an innocent man’s car? Blame the state’s asset forfeiture laws:
Under Kansas law, police are supposed to seize any car whose vehicle identification number (VIN) “has been destroyed, removed, altered or defaced.” Such “contraband” vehicles “shall be destroyed.” There is no exception for a car lawfully purchased by someone who had no reason to be aware of its VIN issues.
KCTV, a Kansas City CBS station, reports that the dashboard VIN plate on Martinez’s Corvette was removed years ago during the car’s restoration and replaced with new rivets. “Many states are flexible on how the VIN is reattached after restoration,” says KCTV, noting that the car already had been licensed and registered in another state. “But Kansas is not so flexible.” The station adds that “the VIN number on the engine was no help,” because “the original engine in the 62-year-old car had been replaced.” Using a mirror, police located a third, inconsistent VIN plate in a “secret” location under the car.
Or, a toxic combination of bad law and worse policing could see a man’s property destroyed despite his innocence. Bottom line: if you own a classic car, think twice before taking it to Kansas. It may end up in the compactor.