Illinois Vehicle Forfeiture Law


A recent article I read described the plight of a 70-year-old woman who loaned her car to her grandson. He was revoked for DUI, even though he told her he had cleared up his license. When he was stopped and arrested the car was impounded and the State filed a forfeiture action to take the car.

Asset forfeiture is a sort of confiscation of assets by the State. It generally applies to the alleged proceeds or instruments of crime. This applies but isn’t restricted to terrorist activities, drug-related offenses, and other crimes as well as civil crimes. Some authorities specifically use the word “confiscation” rather than forfeiture. The alleged aim of asset forfeiture would be to disrupt criminal action by confiscating resources that possibly could have been valuable to the person or organization.

This situation seems totally unfair, and it is. Unfortunately, the law completely allows this to happen, and it does, on a regular basis. I represented a woman whose license was suspended for a DUI (which can be either a felony or misdemeanor) was “outside the box”, meaning she just failed to pay a reinstatement fee. The State still moved to forfeit the car and ultimately succeeded. Her pregnant, adult daughter who lived with her desperately needed the vehicle for school and doctors’ appointments, but because she was not my client’s spouse, the law did not protect her.

In an ongoing trend, police chiefs throughout the nation have reported continued budget cuts, forcing layoffs, furloughs, hiring freezes, reduction of specialization components, cutbacks on equipment and training, and service reductions. This reduction in budget often correlates directly to increases in crime, some of the largest spikes in crime have come from the most poverty-intense cities which have suffered the largest budget cutbacks when taxation earnings shrank.

“Do more with less” But unlike a business which may opt to shed a slow-moving product lineup, local police departments had a large issue. They could not just opt to respond fewer 911 calls. So, what do police departments do in this situation? Look for ways to make it work and that includes increased property forfeiture as a means to generate revenue for the department because they are being shortchanged by the taxpayers. Cash-strapped police departments are increasingly using drug trafficking assets, sometimes of questionable connection to drug activity, as a means of funding their departments.

While the majority of these forfeiture cases in Illinois are more-closely tied to criminal enterprises, you can see how cash-strapped departments may blur the lines in an effort to generate revenue ‘for the great good.’

Under Illinois law, only an “innocent spouse” can successfully get a car that is subject to a forfeiture released to him or her. It seems like an equal protection violation to me, which I argued in the above-referenced matter to no avail. Be careful who you let drive your car.

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