June 29th, 2023 2 Minute Read Amicus Brief by Ilya Shapiro

Amicus Brief: Culley v. Marshall

In Alabama, the government can seize and start forfeiture proceedings against vehicles that are used or are intended to be used to transport or facilitate the sale, receipt, possession, or concealment of certain property, including controlled substances. Those proceedings can take months, even years, to resolve. Hamila Culley and Lena Sutton both had their vehicles seized for other individuals’ actions and retained for more than a year until obtaining a judgment that each was an innocent owner. They filed separate putative class actions claiming that Alabama’s failure to provide a prompt retention hearing violated due process.

The district court and then the Eleventh Circuit held that Alabama did not violate due process, with the Eleventh Circuit concluding that a merits hearing was all the process they were due. Both applied the speedy trial test in Barker v. Wingo (1972), rather than the three-factor balancing test in Mathews v. Eldridge (1976). Under Mathews, which is commonly used in civil-forfeiture cases, due process will often require a prompt retention hearing. Although Alabama amended its civil-forfeiture law in 2021 to give innocent owners a right to a retention hearing, not all states have extended this procedural protection. This means that innocent owners can lose their vehicles for significant periods of time before being afforded an opportunity to prove their innocence.

The Supreme Court has now taken the case and MI has joined the Goldwater Institute and Pacific Legal Foundation on a brief that will argue, as then-Judge Sotomayor put it in 2002, that a speedy-trial test might address “the speed with which civil forfeiture proceedings themselves are instituted or conducted,” but it doesn’t address the availability of “a prompt post-seizure opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of the [government’s] retention of the [property] while those proceedings are conducted.” So the Court should establish a due-process right to a timely retention hearing. 

Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow and director of Constitutional Studies at the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitter here.

Photo: kozmoat98/iStock


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