Civil Forfeiture Defendants Have the Right to a Jury Trial, Says the Indiana Supreme Court
Civil forfeiture defendants in Indiana have the right to a jury trial, the state’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled last week, bolstering basic due process protections for those who have assets seized by law enforcement.
Before the court was the case of Alucious Kizer, from whom police seized $2,435 in cash after a traffic stop where they found drugs in his vehicle. Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to take people’s assets if the government suspects them of criminal activity. Kizer moved to challenge his forfeiture at trial, which the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected, ruling that such defendants “are not entitled to trial by jury.”
“The State insists that Kizer has no right to a jury trial because civil forfeitures pursuant to Indiana’s drug forfeiture laws are a special statutory procedure intended exclusively for trial by the court,” Justice Christopher M. Goff of the Indiana Supreme Court summarized in an opinion published October 31. “Kizer disagrees, arguing that the State’s theory would effectively deprive Hoosiers of a jury trial when filing suit under any modern statutory scheme.”
The state’s highest court ruled in favor of Kizer. “The historical record—consisting of statutes and judicial decisions reflecting contemporary practice—strongly suggests that Indiana continued the common-law tradition of trial by jury in actions for the forfeiture of property,” wrote Goff. The seizure of assets suspected to be used in the commission of a crime, he added, is “an essentially legal action that triggers the right” to a jury trial.
That prosecutors in Indiana have successfully denied civil forfeiture defendants this due process, and were close to making it official in the courts, is a reflection of how abusive t
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