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Monday, April 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Arrestees Can Sue Chicago|for Keeping Their Cash

(CN) - The 7th Circuit revived a class action accusing Chicago of violating arrestees' due-process rights by seizing millions of dollars of their cash each year and making it difficult for them to reclaim it.

"Given the impressive amount of money that goes unclaimed each year by a class of persons who in all likelihood want it back, has the City created a policy that places an impermissible and daunting burden on arrestees to establish an entitlement to money that the City has no right to retain?" Judge Ilana Rovner asked.

Because that question has yet to be answered, Rovner said, summary judgment for the city "was entered in error."

Elton Gates and Luster Nelson were arrested on charges of aggravated battery and possession of crack cocaine, respectively. Gates was carrying $113 in cash at the time of his arrest, and Nelson was carrying $59.

During the arrests, officers inventoried and held their possessions, including the cash. The seized goods were marked as evidence.

A notice on the inventory receipt advised arrestees that they would be notified when they could pick up their seized property, even though the city never sends such notices, and neither Gates nor Nelson received one.

For arrestees to reclaim property being held as evidence, Chicago requires a court order or a release form signed by the arresting officer.

Gates and Nelson said they followed the city's procedures, but were told that the arresting officers were not available to sign their releases.

The charges against Nelson were dismissed about a month after his arrest.

A federal judge dismissed the arrestees' due-process claims, but the 7th Circuit in Chicago reversed.

In a 53-page opinion, Judge Rovner said the city's byzantine recovery policies and its failure to notify the public of the policies violate arrestees' due-process rights.

"Due process requires, at a minimum, that 'deprivation of life, liberty or property by adjudication be preceded by notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case,'" Rovner wrote, quoting Supreme Court precedent.

Had information about the procedure been more widely available, Chicago's policies might withstand a constitutional challenge, she said.

But the panel concluded that the inventory receipt "does not adequately inform arrestees of the procedures to retrieve their money and thus does not comport with due process."

"We cannot conclude on this record that arrestees are willingly abandoning millions of dollars," Rovner wrote.

"It is more likely that arrestees do not know how to retrieve their money because the City's notice is misleading and, in a certain class of cases, is not reasonably calculated to reach its target."

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