David Kirkpatrick

October 16, 2009

Alvarez v. Smith

Why is this Supreme Court case important?

I’ll let Cato’s Ilya Somin provide the details:

Today, the Supreme Court hears Alvarez v. Smith, an important case that will affect the constitutional property rights of many people around the country but has failed to attract the attention as it deserves.

In Alvarez, the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was unconstitutional for Chicago police to seize cars and other property and hold it for many months at a time a without giving the owners any chance challenge the seizure. The Illinois Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act (DAFPA) allows the police to seize property that may have been involved in a drug-related crime and hold onto it for up to 187 days without any kind of legal hearing. This rule applies even to property owned by completely innocent persons who simply had their possessions caught up in a drug investigation through no fault of their own – for example, if someone else used their car to transport illegal drugs without their knowledge. The three car owners involved in Alvarez were never even charged with a crime, much less convicted. Under DAFPA, the authorities also don’t have to prove that keeping innocent owners’ property is necessary in order to prevent the loss of valuable evidence.

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