Cristal Starling runs a mobile food cart in Rochester, New York, to provide for herself and her grandnephew. She dreamed of expanding the business into a food truck, and she saved enough money to do just that. But in the fall of 2020, the local police raided her apartment and seized $8,040—the money she was going to use to pursue her dream.

She was never suspected of any wrong doing, and never charged or convicted of any crime.

The government never even tried to show that Cristal had done anything wrong, but it was able to take her money by tying her up in complicated legal procedures. And, unfortunately, that is typical in civil forfeiture cases. The average value of forfeiture cases is small, meaning it doesn’t make sense for most people to hire a lawyer even if they could afford one, and most civil forfeiture cases end with a missed deadline rather than a decision on the merits. Property owners are forced to run a procedural gauntlet, and they lose by default if they make just a single mistake.

Cristal has teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to appeal the district court’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In a non-forfeiture case, the court would have let Cristal continue her case notwithstanding a single missed deadline. Forfeiture should be no different. Cristal showed up in court to fight, she tried to fight, and she should have been allowed to make her case.

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