Detroit’s Car Owner Asset Forfeiture Scheme Faces Legal Setbacks

A federal appeals court has ruled that Detroit’s practice of seizing people’s cars for months at a time without giving them a chance to contest the seizure violates vehicle owners’ 14th Amendment right to due process. The ruling requires Wayne County to provide car owners a post-seizure court hearing within two weeks.
The Institute for Justice filed a class-action lawsuit in 2020 on behalf of three Wayne County residents arguing that civil asset forfeiture violated their Fourth, Eighth, and 14th Amendment rights. U.S. Circuit Judge Amul Thapar wrote that Wayne County’s scheme “is simply a money-making venture–one most often used to extort money from those who can least afford it.”
Wayne County seized over 2,600 vehicles between 2017 and 2019 and raked in more than $1.2 million in asset forfeiture revenues. Of those seizures, 473 were not accompanied by a criminal conviction, and in 438 cases, no one was charged with a crime.
Thapar questioned whether the practice is a legitimate way of cleaning up Wayne County or a money-making scheme that preys on those least able to fight it.