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Legislators Working on Reforms to Forfeiture Law

Court: Seizure of vehicles without opportunity for hearing violates due-process protections

(INDIANAPOLIS) - Legislators are working to add due-process protections to the law which lets police seize the vehicles of suspected drug dealers.

If you're arrested on drug dealing charges, prosecutors can file suit to confiscate any vehicle believed to have been used to carry the drugs. Indiana law gives prosecutors up to six months to do that -- if the suspect objects, that deadline is moved up to three months, but there's no way to ask for a hearing to challenge the seizure. A federal judge ruled last month that's unconstitutional. 

Legislators considered but didn't act on changes to civil forfeiture laws in this year's session, instead assigning the issue to a summer study committee. The court ruling has moved the issue up the priority list. Senate Judiciary Chairman Rod Bray (R-Martinsville), who also chairs the study panel, says a draft bill would give suspects a right to a speedy hearing on the seizure, while also addressing other issues such as the distribution of proceeds from seized assets.

Bray says legislators need to consider whether to set a hard deadline for that hearing, since judges have crowded calendars already.

Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council executive director David Powell supports the effort. He says Marion County, where the federal lawsuit originated, has already changed its procedures to comply with the ruling. He says the council has shared those guidelines with prosecutors in other counties.

The committee hopes to make recommendations at next month's meeting.

(Photo: Brian A. Jackson/Thinkstock)


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