Supreme Court Rules Cops Can Wrongfully Seize Your Car And Hold It For Weeks, Months

Appealing a seized car won’t get any easier. - Photo: Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle (Getty Images)
Appealing a seized car won’t get any easier. - Photo: Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle (Getty Images)

Members of the U.S. Supreme Court have just voted down legislation that would grant people whose cars were wrongly seized by the authorities a chance to instantly appeal the decision. Instead, innocent drivers will continue to be left waiting for a “timely hearing,” which could take weeks or even months.

Two drivers that had their cars impounded while they were being used by other people brought a case to the Supreme Court that called for the process of returning cars to owners to be expedited. The case called for an instant appeals process to be implemented, which would make it easier for anyone whose car was wrongly impounded to be returned to its rightful owner, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Cases where a rule such as this could be used include times when a stolen car is used in a crime, or if you lend your car to someone and they rack up an awful lot of speeding tickets. However, the case was kicked to the curb after it was voted down by justices, six to three.


The LA Times reports that the case lost favor as judges believed that many states already have their own processes in place to return cars to their owners after they are seized by the authorities. As the site explains:

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, speaking for the court, said states have adopted different rules for forfeitures, and the justices were wary of requiring a second, preliminary hearing in all forfeiture cases.

“When police seize and then seek civil forfeiture of a car that was used to commit a drug offense, the Constitution requires a timely forfeiture hearing,” he wrote in Culley vs. Marshall. “The question here is whether the Constitution also requires a separate preliminary hearing to determine whether the police may retain the car pending the forfeiture hearing. This Court’s precedents establish that the answer is no.”

The case was brought before the court by two women who both had their cars seized while they were being driven by other people. Halima Culley lent her college-age son her car to drive, while Lena Sutton had lent her car to a friend.

After her car was seized by the authorities, Culley had to wait a year before filing a complaint, reports the Times. A month after filing the complaint, her car was returned.

Following their struggles to get reunited with their seized cars, the two women filed a class-action lawsuit seeking damages after they weren’t given a route to quickly appeal the decisions to impound their cars. In their case, Cullet and Sutton claimed that the U.S. Constitution “requires a prompt, post-seizure opportunity for innocent car owners,” reports the LA Times.

While their case was dismissed by court justices, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch did at least admit that the court needed “better rules in this area” going forward.

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