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Illinois: Local Police Seize Cars by the Thousands
Local jurisdictions in Illinois earn thousands by confiscating automobiles from drivers accused of crimes.

Joseph E. Birkett
Cities and counties in Illinois are confiscating cars from motorists to generate thousands in annual profit. At a press conference yesterday, local and state officials held a press conference to celebrate the state law that has allowed the taking of 3000 vehicles in DuPage county alone.

"Article 36 is another tool we have at our disposal to help keep our roads safe," said DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph E. Birkett. "I think the important thing to remember here is this is all about safety."

About 265 cars have been taken this year in DuPage from drivers with expired or suspended licenses, about 120 cars were taken from motorists accused -- but not necessarily convicted -- of drunk driving and about 29 cars from drivers accused of offenses that have absolutely nothing to do with driving. The law permits, for example, seizing vehicles from a driver accused of carrying too many cigarette cartons purchased out-of-state or for gambling offenses. The punishment can be imposed even when no criminal conviction imposed. A municipal court makes the decision using a looser civil standard to avoid the need for a jury trial or proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is big business. The county has been able to keep 260 cars so far this year -- the courts allowed accused motorists and lien holders to keep vehicles in only about one-third of cases tried. In most jurisdictions, the confiscated cars are sold at auction. The city of Naperville, for example, earned $137,000 from sales in fiscal 2008.

The confiscation press conference coincided with an announcement by Governor Rod R. Blagojevich (D) that the state would spend $1.4 million to conduct more than one hundred roadblocks over the July 4 weekend. Drivers who have done nothing wrong will be stopped and searched on Independence Day and those who may have lapsed registration paperwork could lose their vehicles. "Seat belt enforcement zones" will also be used to issue as many tickets as possible during the holiday.

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