Civil Forfeiture
Private Property

New York Forfeiture Appeal Oral Argument

  • Rochester, New York, police seized more than $8,000 from Cristal Starling on the theory that her then-boyfriend was a drug dealer and the money was drug proceeds. In reality, it was legitimate cash that Cristal was saving to expand her food cart into a food truck. Nevertheless, and although Cristal’s now-ex-boyfriend was acquitted on drug charges, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration moved to keep Cristal’s money forever using civil forfeiture.
  • Cristal worked diligently to get her money back, but, despite her best efforts, the system was too complex. Based on a technicality—a single missed deadline—the district court rendered a default judgment against her. In a non-forfeiture case, the court would have let Cristal continue her case. Forfeiture should be no different.
  • In August 2023, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Cristal can continue her case. The opinion adopts all of our legal arguments for why Cristal deserves the chance to fight the forfeiture of her cash in court. It also sharply criticizes civil forfeiture itself, saying that “civil forfeiture procedure magnifies the importance of deciding such cases on the merits rather than by default.” As of August 4, 2023, Cristal’s case is again pending before the district court.

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