(Sept. 4) Judge Amul Thapar of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit last week wrote an opinion showing again that conservative jurisprudence is often likely to favor the “ordinary person” and the “human element.”

That message is the recurrent theme in a recent book by Thapar called The People’s Justice: Clarence Thomas and the Constitutional Stories that Define Him. And it was on display in his concurring opinion in Ingram v. County of Wayne, which was released on Thursday. In it, he went beyond two fellow judges in denouncing the abusive use of a law enforcement tool called “asset forfeiture,” by which authorities seize vehicles (in this case) or other property used by people suspected of committing crimes.

In this case, all three judges agreed that Wayne County, Michigan, appears to be seizing cars without providing the car owners anywhere near adequate opportunity to contest the seizure or recover the vehicles in a timely manner. Thapar, in going further than the other two judges, emphatically wrote that “the County’s scheme is simply a money-making venture — one most often used to extort money from those who can least afford it.”

The case involved three separate people victimized. Detroit police seized vehicles even though the vehicles themselves had not been used in the course of a crime and even though the vehicle owners themselves were not the actual perpetrators — even of a crime suspected of being committed by others. Melisa Ingram, for example, lent her car to her then-boyfriend, who in turn was pulled over by the officers who suspected he was driving around to procure prostitutes. Because they had no proof, they let the boyfriend go without charges — but they seized the car anyway!

County officials would not let Ingram get her car back unless she either paid $1,355 in fines and fees or waited four full months to see a judge to argue that the car never should have been seized in the first place….. [The full column is here.]

 

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