Federal Judge Praises Civil Rights and Police Accountability Clinic in Order Approving Settlement in Due Process/Forfeiture Case

June 29, 2012

The Civil Rights and Police Accountability Clinic was singled out for praise from the presiding judge in a recent case involving what process was due when police seized a suspect’s car in connection with the arrest of a criminal suspect.  After six years of intense wrangling, with litigation before the Federal District Court, Seventh Circuit, and Supreme Court of the United States, the clinic won a just and fair settlement on behalf of its clients.  

Under the setttlement, the state must provide a probable cause hearing before a Cook County Circuit Court judge within 14 days of the seizure by police of the suspect’s assets.  If the State can’t establish probable cause, the property is released and the case is dismissed.   Furthermore, the owner has a right to a second hearing before a judge within 7 additional days in which she can seek the release of her property by showing that she or her family would suffer a hardship during the year or years that forfeiture proceedings may linger on.  The settlement also requires police to provide immediate notice of these rights and procedures to drivers on the scene and mailed notice to all owners/interest holders of record within one day of seizure. 

This new process is a dramatic improvement from the status quo, in which defendants had complete lack of access to court for years to try to regain their seized assets.   Through the settlement, the clinic has changed an unjust practice and law that had been effect in Illinois for decades. 

In the minute order approving the settlement, the judge reached out to compliment the handling of the case: 

"Counsel for the parties are to be commended for the professionalism and flexibility with which they dealt with this case. Their conduct demonstrates that one can fulfill all the responsibilities that lawyers owe to courts without sacrificing in the slightest their obligations to their clients. The kind of conduct and responsibility displayed by the lawyers in this case make one proud to be in the legal profession."  Smith et al v. City of Chicago et al, 1:06-cv-06423

Congratulations to the students and faculty of the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Clinic!