Landmark Decision: Indiana Supreme Court Grants Civil Forfeiture Defendants Right to Jury Trial

Civil forfeiture defendants in Indiana now have the right to a jury trial following a unanimous ruling by the state’s Supreme Court last week. The ruling strengthens basic due process protections for those who have assets seized by law enforcement. The case before the court involved Alucious Kizer, from whom police seized $2,435 in cash after finding drugs in his vehicle during a traffic stop. Civil forfeiture permits law enforcement to take people’s assets if the government suspects them of criminal activity. Kizer moved to challenge his forfeiture at trial, but the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected his appeal, stating that such defendants “are not entitled to trial by jury.” The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in Kizer’s favor, with Justice Christopher M. Goff stating that the historical record shows Indiana’s commitment to the common-law tradition of trial by jury in actions for the forfeiture of property. This is significant as it will impact civil forfeiture practices across the U.S. The ruling came just a day before the U.S. Supreme Court considered a similar issue in Culley v. Marshall, a case involving two women whose cars were seized in Alabama. Neither woman was in their car at the time of the seizure and neither was suspected of a crime. Both eventually got their vehicles back, but it took 20 months and 14 months, respectively, due to the lack of due process in civil forfeiture cases. The Supreme Court is soon to decide if depriving defendants of a timely hearing violates the Constitution. In Kizer’s case, he will finally get a jury trial to determine if the $2,435 in cash recovered during his arrest should be forfeited or returned to him. “The right to a trial by jury of our peers is core to our system of justice,” said Sam Gedge, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice.