On May 13, 2013, a woman filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the city, the Chief of Police of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and the mayor of the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fifth Amendment of the US ...
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On May 13, 2013, a woman filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the city, the Chief of Police of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and the mayor of the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution. The plaintiff, represented by a public defender service, alleged that her due process rights were violated when her car was indefinitely seized by the MPD, without providing her with a prompt, neutral hearing to challenge the seizure of her property. The plaintiff further alleged that others similarly situated suffer from the defendant's failure to provide a prompt, neutral test for the validity of the seizure. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that indigent vehicles owners suffer because a "penal sum" that many indigent vehicle owners cannot afford is required to challenge the police seizure.
On April 4, 2013, the plaintiff's car was seized after police officers allegedly found two empty firearm magazines inside a pocketbook that was inside of the car. The plaintiff received a letter on April 22, 2013, stating that her car would be forfeited unless she paid a "penal sum" of $1,962 to challenge the police seizure in court. If the penal sum is not paid the police are allowed to sell seized vehicles and retain the proceeds. Thus, the plaintiff argued, D.C.'s profitable and self-interested civil forfeiture scheme denies persons in plaintiff's position their right to procedural due process under the Fifth Amendment.
On August 16, 2013, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle granted the defendants' motion to stay the proceeding. The motion was entered after the plaintiff's car was returned to her and the parties agreed to work together through informal channels to return seized vehicles to the owners of other vehicles seized by the MPD. By this time, legislation was pending that addressed the constitutional problems that the plaintiff alleged in her complaint, and the parties agreed to suspend litigation until the bill passes (or fails to pass).
On June 29, 2015, defendants filed a consent motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction based on the fact that the Congressional review period ended for pending legislation. The Civil Asset Forfeiture Amendment Act of 2014 provides prompt post-deprivation retention hearings, eliminates cost bonds, and all money from civil forfeitures will now go the D.C. General Fund instead of MPD, rendering the plaintiff's allegations of constitutional violations moot. On June 29, 2015, Judge Ellen S. Huvelle signed the order and dismissed the case with prejudice. Daniel Fryer - 01/18/2016