Civil Asset Forfeiture…Chicago Style

There is a really lengthy and detailed article on Reason conveying the story of one man’s deprivation of property and that property being held hostage for “fines and penalties” despite an order from a judge instructing the city to release the man’s car.

This is just an excerpt from the article. Obviously, I recommend that everyone go read it and share it with others that might actually like to think we can own something…It’s linked in the headline below:

Chicago Is Trying to Pay Down Its Debt by Impounding Innocent People’s Cars

How a uniquely punitive city impound program combined with the drug war and asset forfeiture to deprive people of their vehicles for years at a time.

 

Because civil forfeiture operates under the legal fiction that it’s an action against the property, not its owner, Byrd’s case appeared on the docket as The People of the State of Illinois v. 1996 Cadillac Sedan.

(This quirk of American law has resulted in other notable cases such as United States v. Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls, United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins.)

It wasn’t until November that Byrd had his first hearing in Cook County asset forfeiture court. He filed a handwritten financial hardship motion asking the court to release his car while his case was pending so he could continue to work.

“I’m in need of my auto because I’m a carpenter by trade, and this is my business,” Byrd wrote. “My tools are in the 1996 Cadillac sedan. I used the auto to go to various jobs. Can’t pay any bills because this is my livelihood. I would appreciate this for me and my children.”

To show hardship, Byrd had to get a letter from his local carpenters union, prove ownership of the car, pay a $30 security deposit, and show current insurance on the car, which at that point he’d been unable to drive for close to six months.

A month later, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Margarita Kulys-Hoffman granted Byrd’s motion over the objections of the state attorney’s office. She ordered the Chicago Police Department to release Byrd’s car.

However, when Byrd went to the Chicago Police Department, judge’s order in hand, a strange thing happened. The city refused to release it, telling him he first had to pay the fines and fees that had been accumulating under Chicago’s municipal code since June.

Byrd, who thought he was finally about to get a reprieve from this inscrutable system, was flabbergasted.

“How can a judge say to give this man his vehicle in writing, but the city of Chicago say, ‘No, we want some money?'” Byrd says. “It’s crazy. They’re inside of the state but they want to make themselves outside of the rules.”

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