Although the State of Kansas Admits This Guy Is Innocent, It Still Wants To Destroy His 1959 Corvette
After decades of looking, Richard Martinez finally found his dream car at Jabaay Motors in Merrillville, Indiana: a red-and-white 1959 Corvette convertible with a hard top. But when he tried to register the car back home in Kansas, the Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP) seized it as “contraband.” Now the car is sitting in a Topeka impound lot, ready to be destroyed by the state unless Martinez’s legal challenge is successful, even though prosecutors concede he is innocent.
Martinez’s convertible, which cost him $50,000, has been in state custody since 2017. He says it has been damaged in storage, which means he will have to spend another $28,000 or so on repairs if he ever gets the car back. That’s on top of the $30,000 he already has spent on legal fees.
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.
“The government concedes Mr. Martinez did nothing wrong,” the Kansas Justice Institute (KJI) notes in an amicus brief arguing that the statute requiring seizure of the convertible violates due process. Prosecutors admitted that Martinez was “not aware of the [VIN] issues and defects,” saying “there is no question” he is “an innocent owner.” But under the law, the state says, that does not matter.
“This is not fair,” Martinez told KCTV. “Everybody’s saying I didn’t do anything. The states that had [the car] gave approval to it.”
In 1982, the KJ
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