ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Arizona Superior Court for Maricopa County ruled that the forfeiture case against Jerry Johnson’s life savings will be dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be filed again. The court also ruled that Jerry, the owner of a small trucking business who had $39,500 seized by law enforcement at the Phoenix Airport in August 2020, is not only entitled to get his money back, but he is also owed 9% interest for the loss of use of his property and is eligible to be compensated for his attorneys’ fees.
The decision marks the end of a legal saga that left Jerry Johnson without his money for more than 2.5 years during the COVID-19 pandemic. After a trial court originally ruled that Jerry could not even contest the forfeiture of his money, the Institute for Justice (IJ) intervened in May 2022 and successfully appealed Jerry’s case, securing a published opinion holding that property owners do not have to prove their own innocence just to contest a forfeiture.
“I’m so happy to finally have this case dismissed, to get my money back, and to receive interest for the years that the government refused to return my money without proving I did anything wrong. And I am also eager to get back the money I paid out of pocket for my first attorney.” said Jerry. “I can now invest this money in my business so I can continue to grow it to provide for myself and my family.”
Jerry’s money was seized in August 2020 when he flew to Phoenix to purchase a semi-truck for his Charlotte, North Carolina-based trucking company. When Jerry got off the plane and arrived at baggage claim, he was surrounded by law enforcement who questioned him and then seized his money. They ultimately took the money through a process known as civil forfeiture, which does not require law enforcement to charge someone with a crime before taking their property.
“We’re ecstatic that Jerry has been awarded interest for the time he was left without the operating expenses for his business,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dan Alban. “It’s outrageous that Jerry had to wait this long to get his own hard-earned money back, but this shows just how unjust the entire civil forfeiture system is. Even when a property owner ultimately wins their case, it takes years of litigation to get their property back, and the government fights to avoid any responsibility for making them whole after upending their life.”
In addition to awarding Jerry interest on his money, the court also ruled that Jerry is eligible to seek attorneys’ fees, including for the lawyer he had paid out of pocket before IJ stepped in to represent him pro bono.
Last month, the state returned Jerry’s money to him with a mere 0.8% interest, which wouldn’t have even covered the difference in inflation in the time since his money was seized.
“This case was a massive victory not only for Jerry, but for due process, property rights, and basic justice,” said IJ President and Chief Counsel Scott G. Bullock. “We’re incredibly happy for Jerry and we will continue fighting the appalling practice of civil forfeiture throughout this country so that no one else has to go through what happened to Jerry.”