(The Center Square) – A federal appeals court has ruled a Washington state couple’s lawsuit against the state of Arizona over what they say was an unconstitutional seizure of their property can continue.
Terry and Ria Platt loaned their vehicle in 2016 to their son to use on vacation when Arizona state troopers stopped him on Interstate 40 in Navajo County for having tinted windows. A K-9 search discovered a small amount of marijuana in the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta, and police also found $31,000 in cash.
Police seized the car and money, although neither the Platts nor their son was ever charged with a crime.
The couple is being represented pro bono by the Virginia-based nonprofit Institute for Justice.
According to Institute for Justice attorneys, the Platts filled out the necessary paperwork to get their car back but could not afford a lawyer or to attend a court hearing on the matter at the time.
Institute for Justice said Navajo County prosecutors told a judge the paperwork was filled out incorrectly but never produced the evidence in court. Once Institute for Justice got involved, the state returned the vehicle to the Platts but maintained it was not wrong with seizing it in the first place.
“After five years, the Platts can finally have their day in court.” Keith Diggs, an attorney with Institute for Justice, said in a news release. “Policing for profit violates due process, and we will vindicate the Platts’ rights against the abuse that happened here.”
Institute for Justice is seeking a symbolic payment of $1 and for Navajo County to admit its actions were unconstitutional.
“This long-running case shows how complicated it can be to sue the government for violating your constitutional rights,” said Paul Avelar of Institute for Justice. “But it also shows how much Arizona has changed its forfeiture laws for the better since the Platts were first victimized.”
Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill in May reforming the state’s civil forfeiture laws, five days after the bill passed both chambers of the Arizona Legislature with bipartisan support.
“Currently, this civil process does not require a criminal conviction before a person’s property is forfeited to the state and there are many stories of property being taken, forfeited, and sometimes sold without the person ever being subject to criminal prosecution,” Ducey said at the time. “House Bill 2810 provides this balance. It ensures that property being taken is truly connected to criminal activity while innocent persons have the ability to get their property back.”