You Must Be Kidding – I Haven't Even Paid Off My Car!

I sincerely hope this headline grabs your attention. In Wisconsin, law enforcement agencies are becoming much more aggressive as it relates to the seizure and forfeiture of items either purchased or obtained through the proceeds of criminal activities and, more importantly, vehicles and other assets that were utilized during the commission of a crime.

The reasoning behind these forfeitures is fairly obvious - dwindling government budgets and continuous budget cuts. Local, state and government budgets are seeking to enhance their budgets for discretionary expenditures by forfeiting a variety of items - most notably, vehicles - that are used in the commission of a crime. This occurs routinely in drug possession cases, as well as cases involving charges stemming from drug distribution and delivery. It can also include a variety of other offenses, including solicitation for prostitution, criminal damage to property, etc.

Under Wis. Stats. §961.55, vehicles are subject to forfeiture if used to transport or sell illegal drugs, or if used in the commission of various offenses. The government will literally file suit the owner and the actual vehicle and seek a civil forfeiture through the courts. While the civil forfeiture action can be postponed pending the resolution of the criminal case, many municipalities are refusing to dismiss the civil forfeiture, even if the individual is convicted of the criminal offense. However, recently in State v. One 2013, Toyota Corolla, 2014AP2226 (Sept. 23, 2015), a three-judge appeals court panel found that the forfeiture of a vehicle valued in excess of $22,000 was excessive when compared to the gravity of the offense. In this case, the vehicle was owned by both the defendant - who was charged with a drug delivery - and his grandmother. The defendant's grandmother had paid $20,000 toward the purchase price of the vehicle, and the defendant paid $2,500. Notwithstanding that the grandmother had no idea the vehicle was being utilized in the commission of a crime and is subject to forfeiture, the seizure must satisfy the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This means that the vehicle forfeiture or the civil forfeiture must be commensurate with the offense itself. Because the grandmother had no criminal liability or culpability, the Court found the forfeiture to be grossly disproportionate to her culpability, unconstitutional and violated the proportionality clause of the Eighth Amendment.

Individuals must be extremely aware of the risks involved in utilizing vehicles or other assets for criminal purposes. Should the asset be seized, you cannot simply go to the impound lot and retrieve the asset. It is more likely that the government will file a seizure action for the asset. It is vitally important that you contact a lawyer who is well versed in this area of the law. At Bucher Law Group, LLC, we are well experienced in this area of the law and can assist you in the underlying criminal case, as well as the companion civil case.

Don't just sit on your rights. It is far too easy to lose your rights and your assets.