Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · October 18, 2023

ARLINGTON, Va.—Stephanie Wilson had her car seized by sheriff’s deputies in Wayne County, Michigan. She was not arrested, accused of wrongdoing, or issued a citation. For two years, she tried to get in front of a judge to plead her innocence and get her car back. Only after joining a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice (IJ) was Stephanie able to get her car back. By that time, it had rotten tires and rust.

Stephanie is one of two IJ clients who have filed an amicus brief in Culley v. Marshall, a case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear on October 30. The case challenges the constitutionality of Alabama’s civil forfeiture laws on the grounds that they did not provide for a prompt post-seizure hearing. The plaintiffs, Halima Culley and Lena Sutton, each had their vehicles seized for alleged drug crimes committed by their son and roommate, respectively. Neither was given a prompt post-seizure hearing.  

“Delay is one of the government’s most potent weapons in civil forfeiture cases,” said IJ Attorney Rob Johnson, the author of the brief. “Forced to wait months or even years for a hearing, many property owners simply give up, and others agree to unfair settlements where they give up half or more of their property just to get the remainder back. We’re urging the Supreme Court to make clear those kinds of tactics violate due process. Victims of civil forfeiture are entitled to have their cases heard in a timely manner.”   

The class-action lawsuit Stephanie joined was recently granted a major victory by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Wayne County violated the rights of Detroiters by not offering prompt court hearings within two weeks of their vehicles being seized. In a concurrence, Judge Amul Thapar suggested that the time should be even shorter: within two days of seizure.

Stephanie and IJ attorneys are available for interviews. To arrange, contact IJ Media Relations Director Andrew Wimer at [email protected] or (703) 298-5938.