A new lawsuit is challenging Arizona law enforcement’s broad authority to seize property and money in criminal investigations.
On behalf of an out-of-state couple, Paul Avelar, attorney for the Institute for Justice, filed a lawsuit last week challenging the authority of several Navajo County law enforcement agencies. The lawsuit asks the court to declare their practices unconstitutional.
“They can take your home, your car, your life savings, and they never have to accuse you of a crime, much less convict you of a crime,” said Avelar in an interview with ABC15. “That’s the way civil forfeiture works.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Terri and Maria Platt, an elderly couple from eastern Washington. Navajo County officials declined to comment.
In May, the Platt’s son was driving their car on Interstate 40 on his way back to their home state. He was pulled over for a window tint violation, court records show.
Officers found a “personal use” amount of marijuana and $30,000 in cash.
Officials then seized the vehicle and have refused to return it to the Platts, records show. Avelar said the law requires there to be more than two pounds of marijuana to justify a seizure.
The Platt’s son was never charged with any crime, records show.
The Platt’s case is the latest to challenge Arizona law enforcement on civil asset seizures.
Last year, the ACLU and the law firm Perkins Coie filed a joint lawsuit against Pinal County. The FBI is also investigating issues related to Pinal County’s practices and has an open case against the Pima County Sheriff’s Office.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at firstname.lastname@example.org.