4/15/2008Arkansas Appeals Court: No Conflict of Interest for Car Seizures
Arkansas Court of Appeals rules police should continue car confiscation operations despite financial conflicts of interest.
Law enforcement agencies create no conflict of interest when they seize vehicles to keep for their own use, according to a ruling released Wednesday by the Arkansas Court of Appeals. The court's decision is designed to encourage police to continue taking cars from motorists whether or not the vehicle owners have been convicted of any crime.
The case in question began on May 26, 2006, when Carroll County Sheriff's Office seized the 1996 Toyota Camry registered to Adam Hammame, 22, and Susan Hammame. Officers at the scene grabbed the car after accusing the couple of selling marijuana to an informant. In July, the sheriff's office served notice on Hammame that the agency would keep his car for good. A Carroll County judge blocked the move by pointing out that state law prohibited agencies with a conflict of interest from having the responsibility of serving confiscation notices.
"The language of the statute makes it clear that the seizing agency is a party to this type of action, and has an interest in the outcome," Judge Alan D. Epley wrote.
The sheriff's office appealed, insisting that they be allowed to keep the Camry. Hammame's lawyers cited the state supreme court decision In re $3,166,199 which found that the Arkansas Highway Patrol "has a pecuniary interest affected by the court's disposition of the matter" of the seizure of $3.1 million in cash. The appeals court disagreed with Hammame and found that this monetary interest was irrelevant because the court remained in control of the confiscation process.
"The seizing agency is responsible for custody and inventory of the seized property, but may not dispose of it except as authorized by a court," appeals court Judges David M. Glover and Larry D. Vaught wrote.
Because the appellate judges found the sheriff's office was not a party to the suit, they ordered the lower court implement vehicle seizures despite any apparent conflicts. A full copy of the court's decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.