Frequently Searched

Even Criminals Get Due Process. Why Don’t These Innocent Americans?

June 30, 2023

When Lena Sutton lent her car to her friend Roger in February 2019, she didn’t know that Roger planned to use it for something illegal: transporting drugs. She only found that out when Alabama police officers pulled him over for speeding and, after discovering the contraband, confiscated Lena’s car.

She had nothing to do with the crime—but that didn’t matter. Under the legal theory of “civil asset forfeiture,” prosecutors can seize cash, cars, or even entire houses that are involved in criminal activity, even if the owners had no idea their property was being used illegally.

What’s more, Alabama officials declared that although Lena was entitled to a hearing where a judge would decide whether cops could keep her car, the police wouldn’t let her use her car while she waited for that hearing to take place. That’s a concept lawyers call pendente lite—a Latin phrase meaning “during the lawsuit”—and it’s a question the U.S. Supreme Court will soon consider. It’s taken up Lena’s case to decide whether police can not only take property from innocent owners, but also hold it during the months, or even years, that it takes for a judge to decide whether to approve the confiscation.

Read the rest of the op-ed at Townhall

Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Legal Affairs at the Goldwater Institute, which has filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to protect Lena’s rights.  



More on this issue

Donate Now

Help all Americans live freer, happier lives. Join the Goldwater Institute as we defend and strengthen freedom in all 50 states.

Donate Now

Since 1988, the Goldwater Institute has been in the liberty business — defending and promoting freedom, and achieving more than 400 victories in all 50 states. Donate today to help support our mission.

We Protect Your Rights

Our attorneys defend individual rights and protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Need Help? Submit a case.

Get Connected to Goldwater

Sign up for the latest news, event updates, and more.