After four months of struggling in court, this week an Illinois grandmother’s car was returned to her after it was seized by local police as part of her grandson’s arrest. According to The Dispatch/Argus, in August 2015, Judy Wiese lent her car to her grandson “after he assured her he had taken care of all his court obligations after a 2014 DUI conviction.” She found out that wasn’t true after local law enforcement arrested him for driving with a revoked license and seized her car.

While her grandson plead guilty to driving-while-revoked and was sentenced to 10 days in jail, Ms. Wiese was left without a car for four months. Without the funds to afford an attorney, Wiese did her best to represent herself in court. But when she forgot to get her complaint notarized, the judge scolded her. The Dispatch/Argus reported:

Ms. Wiese, clearly befuddled, let out a sigh.

“You gasp because you don’t know how to proceed,” the judge said. He added that, just as you call a doctor for medical help, you should hire an attorney to fight a court case.

“I can’t afford an attorney,” Ms. Wiese said.

Nevertheless, she was told she still was required to follow legal procedures normally handled by an attorney. “The point is, you’re on your own — you’ve chosen to represent yourself,” Judge Chickris said.

After the Dispatch/Argues wrote about her situation, local Attorney Larry Vandersnick offered pro bono legal assistance to Wiese and ultimately helped win back the car.

Wiese’s case is an example of an “innocent owner”, a property owner whose property was seized by law enforcement in connection with a crime but has not been accused of any wrong doing. Like Wiese many innocent owners are often relatives or friends who lend property to someone police allege is connected to a crime. But, Illinois is one of many states where innocent owners must prove their innocence, which turns the concept of innocent until proven guilty on its head. Illinois received a D- for its civil forfeiture laws in the Institute for Justice’s report Policing for Profit, due in part to its lack of protection for innocent owners.

For more information about civil forfeiture, check out IJ’s Issue page and watch the video below:

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