On July 22, 2015, the ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona, and the law firm Perkins Coie filed suit against the Sheriff, the County Attorney, and the Clerk of the Superior Court in Pinal County, Arizona, for their enforcement of Arizona’s civil asset forfeiture laws. These laws, which are particularly egregious in Arizona, allow police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be charged with or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.
In this case, Pinal County law enforcement used this unconstitutional scheme against Rhonda Cox, an innocent county resident, to seize and keep her used truck, violating her First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments rights. In order to keep her truck, the state didn’t have to prove that she did anything wrong – let alone criminal. In addition, the County Attorney’s office informed Ms. Cox that the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws would doubly punish her if she pursued her claim and didn’t win—in the end, she would lose her truck and have to pay the county’s attorneys’ fees and investigation costs, which would exceed the value of her truck. Ms. Cox couldn’t absorb the financial risk involved, so she was forced to withdraw her claim and give up her truck to the authorities.