The US Supreme Court Monday granted writ of certiorari to hear a case about whether individuals are owed an immediate hearing to recover property that is seized during a crime they did not commit.
Appellants Halima Culley and Lena Sutton had their cars seized for connection to criminal activity. In both cases, the individuals were not involved in the crime, but their cars were retained for over a year. In Culley’s case, her car was seized after her son was arrested for possession of marijuana while driving the car. Culley filed suit to retrieve the vehicle, but it was not returned to her for 20 months. In Sutton’s case, her car was seized after a friend who was borrowing the car was arrested for possession of methamphetamines. Sutton’s car was not returned for over a year.
In both cases, the state government filed civil forfeitures for the vehicles, which allowed the government to temporarily keep them. The state court in both cases eventually granted summary judgment, returning the cars to their owners. But at that point, it had been over a year without their cars for both women.
Culley and Sutton filed a class action suit in federal court, bringing claims for monetary damages under the US Constitution’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment. They are arguing that the government held their cars for an unreasonable amount of time, resulting in harm.
Culley and Sutton lost at the district level, and again upon appeal. They are now appealing to the Supreme Court.