WASHINGTON (CN) – A D.C. man can recover the 2007 Saturn Aura that was seized from him when police claimed that the car contained a firearm in a bag, a federal judge ruled.
Frederick Simms says that the Metropolitan Police Department has retained possession of his car since its seizure on May 29, 2011, even though Simms was acquitted that same year of weapons charges.
The District of Columbia has refused to give the car back because it hopes to gain title to it by prevailing in civil forfeiture litigation, according to the complaint.
But Simms says those proceedings did not get underway until June 1, 2012, and could last another year.
“In the nearly seven months following his acquittal, Mr. Simms has been unable to challenge the validity of the initial seizure and continuing retention of his vehicle prior to judgment in the forfeiture proceedings, nor will he have any opportunity to do so for the next year while the proceedings are pending,” U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan explained Friday.
Claiming that the district’s actions constitute a violation of procedural due process rights under the Fifth Amendment, Simms demanded a preliminary injunction against the Metropolitan Police pending the outcome of the forfeiture proceedings.
The district argued that such a decision would “bring the forfeiture system to a grinding halt,” and undermine its ability to seize property for any and all purposes,” according to the court.
In siding with Simms, the judge noted the narrowness of the sought-after relief.
“He seeks, for the time being, only to prevent the district from continuing to hold one vehicle in particular,” Sullivan wrote, referring to Simms.
“Mr. Simms has demonstrated that the loss of his vehicle harms his ability to go about the necessities of daily life, and the District’s continued retention of his vehicle without the opportunity to be heard deprives him of his constitutionally-protected rights,” Sullivan added.
Though the district argued that release of the car would expose it to damages, Sullivan found this argument unconvincing.
“In this case, the cost or damages sustained by the district would be modest – the loss of the amount for which Mr. Simm’s car could be sold at forfeiture,” Sullivan wrote. “Moreover… plaintiff has extremely limited financial resources, and is unable to post security in any significant amount. Courts regularly take both of these factors into account when exercising their discretion to require a bond.”
“Accordingly, based on the record in this case, in particular the District’s interest in the value of the car as compared with plaintiff’s limited ability to pay a bond and the constitutional rights he seeks to protect, the court will exercise its discretion in this case to impose a minimal security requirement.”
With that Sullivan ordered Simms to prove a security payment of $1,000, while ordering the district to return his car.