Institute for Justice · October 27, 2016

Phoenix, Ariz.—Less than one month after Terry and Ria Platt teamed up with the Institute for Justice to challenge Arizona’s rigged civil forfeiture system, Navajo County prosecutors will return the Platts’ unlawfully seized car. But the lawsuit against Arizona’s forfeiture laws will continue.

In Arizona, owners have only 30 days to either petition the prosecutor to reconsider the forfeiture or ask permission to go to court to fight back. But this process requires owners to file a sophisticated legal document with a lot of information—often without the benefit of a lawyer. If they miss the 30-day window or mess up the document, they lose their property forever. And most of the time, it is the prosecutor—not a judge—who decides what to give back and what to keep. Even worse, police and prosecutors get to keep 100 percent of what they forfeit, setting up a financial incentive to seize as much property and cash as they can. In fact, Arizona law enforcement seized more than $36,000,000 in 2015 alone.

“We are thrilled to get our car back and be one step closer to ending this nightmare,” said Terry Platt, who is suing Arizona over its forfeiture laws. “But this is not the end for us—my wife and I will continue to fight until the laws are changed and Arizona stops using forfeiture completely.”

“Civil forfeiture is the greatest threat to property rights in our nation today, and Arizona’s rigged system is one of the worst in the country,” explained IJ Senior Attorney Paul Avelar, who is representing Terry and Ria.

Terry and Ria had their car seized after police pulled over their son—who does not own the car—for a window tint violation. The police found cash and a small amount of personal-use marijuana, both of which the son said were his. Arizona law does not allow law enforcement to forfeit property for having cash and a small amount of marijuana, yet prosecutors ignored the law and tried to keep the car.

“We are happy the Platts are getting their car back, but we will continue to fight until Arizona’s forfeiture scheme is completely abolished,” said IJ Attorney Keith Diggs, who is assisting Avelar with Terry and Ria’s case. “Prosecutors use Arizona’s forfeiture maze to deny people their property—and their day in court. And because most people cannot afford their own attorneys, the prosecutors can get away with it.”

Navajo County prosecutors insist they did nothing wrong and that they can legally do to people exactly what they did to the Platts. Moreover, Arizona law gives prosecutors seven years to try again to forfeit the car.

“This fight is not over,” said Avelar. “The prosecutors refuse to admit the obvious constitutional violations here. Our civil rights case will continue because the Platts are entitled to more than just their car back—they are entitled to have the Arizona courts say their rights were violated and an order that puts a stop to these abuses. Only then will the Platts—and other innocent property owners in Arizona—be safe from civil forfeiture.”