New Jersey Civil Forfeiture

State of New Jersey v. One 1990 Ford Thunderbird
Policing & Prosecuting for Profit: New Jersey Ex-Sheriff Fights Civil Forfeiture Abuse

IJ client Carol Thomas is challenging New Jersey's forfeiture laws after regaining title to her 1990 Ford Thunderbird.

New Jersey’s civil forfeiture law dangerously transforms law enforcement priorities from fair and impartial administration of justice to the pursuit of property and profit.  New Jersey police departments and prosecutors’ offices are entitled to keep money and property confiscated through the state’s civil forfeiture law, thus giving them a direct financial stake in these forfeitures.

In State of New Jersey v. One 1990 Ford Thunderbird, former Cumberland County deputy sheriff Carol Thomas of Millville, N.J., sought to reform the State’s perverse forfeiture incentive scheme. Her case arose in 1999 when Thomas’s then 17-year-old son used her Thunderbird—without her knowledge or consent—to sell marijuana to an undercover officer.  He was arrested, pleaded guilty to the charge and faced his punishment.  But that did not end the matter.  In addition to pursuing the criminal case, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office also pursued Thomas’s car in a civil forfeiture proceeding even though no drugs were found in the car, she bought the car with a bank loan, and she unquestionably was not aware of and did not consent to her son’s actions.  Mrs. Thomas is an unlikely crusader because at the time of her son’s arrest, she was a seven-year veteran officer with the Sheriff’s Office.  Thomas has subsequently left the force and is fighting abusive forfeiture laws.

Impartiality in civil and criminal proceedings is a bedrock principle of our justice system and is guaranteed by the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution.  The Institute for Justice won the return of Ms. Thomas’s title to her car and the trial judge ruled that the profit incentive at the core of New Jersey’s civil forfeiture violated her due process rights.  Unfortunately, that ruling was overturned by the New Jersey Appellate Court. 

Essential Background


Backgrounder: Policing and Prosecuting for Profit, New Jersey Ex-Sheriff Fights Civil Forfeiture Abuse

Client Photo

Client Video - none available

Latest Release: Property Owner Takes Fight Against “Prosecuting for Profit” To New Jersey Supreme Court (September 9, 2004)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

none available

Launch Release: Policing & Prosecuting for Profit: New Jersey Ex-Sheriff Fights Civil Forfeiture Abuse (November 15, 2000)


Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit:

January 23, 2001

Court Filed:

Superior Court of Cumberland County, New Jersey, Law Division


September 9, 2004:  IJ appeals case to New Jersey Supreme Court


July 21, 2004:  New Jersey Appellate Court upheld constitutionality of civil forfeiture law


January 19, 2001:  Suit by the State dropped.  Court ordered return of car title and the amount of bond. Counter suit by Thomas challenging constitutionality of forfeiture law allowed to proceed


December 12, 2002: Trial court declares law unconstitutional

Current Court: 

New Jersey Supreme Court


To Be Determined

Next Key Date:

To Be Determined

Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: New Jersey Appellate Court Upholds “Policing for Profit,” Overturning Trial Court Decision (July 21, 2004) IJ's Initiative to End Policing for Profit

Release: New Jersey Appeals Court Considers Constitutionality Of Civil Forfeiture Funding Scheme (March 31, 2004)

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Video: Forfeiture Abuse: Even Your Drums Aren't Safe From the Police; (February 28, 2011)

Video: Fox Business: IJ's Scott Bullock discusses "policing for profit" with David Asman; (August 10, 2010)

Article: IJ Report Kicks Off New Campaign Against Civil Forfeiture Abuse; Liberty & Law (April 2010)

Video: Policing for Profit - The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture; (March 30, 2010)

Article: Court Seizes the Day New Jersey Civil Forfeiture Laws Declared Unconstitutional Liberty & Law (February 2003)

Release: New Jersey Court Declares State’s Civil Forfeiture Funding Scheme Unconstitutional (December 12, 2002)

Article: St. Petersburg Times: Forfeiture and Fairness (December 23, 2002)

Media Advisory: Oral Argument in Landmark Challenge To New Jersey’s Civil Forfeiture Law (November 11, 2002)

Article: The Star-Ledger: State’s civil forfeiture law struck down-Judge says the pursuit of profits from property sales could taint prosecutions (December 13, 2002)

Release: Victory in Civil Asset Forfeiture Case May Mean Greater Protection of Property Rights in New Jersey (January 19, 2001)

Article: Prosecuting for Profit: IJ Protects Property Owners In The Garden State; Liberty & Law (November 2002)

Article: Asset Forfeiture Victory; Liberty & Law (March 2001)

Article: The Star-Ledger: Police seizures violate innocent owners’ rights (January 25, 2001)

Article: Don't Take My Car! Ex-Sheriff Wages Fight Against Forfeiture Abuses; Liberty & Law (June 2000)

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