Paxton cops waiting to see how Supreme Court ruling could affect impoundment practices

PAXTON — Impounding vehicles has been a money-making business for the Paxton Police Department since August 2009, when an ordinance went into effect requiring the owners of vehicles used in the commission of various crimes to pay a $500 administrative penalty, plus towing and storage fees, to get back their seized vehicles.

As of May 2016, the impound and towing fees and proceeds from the sale of seized vehicles had generated $219,567 for the police department. And that number has grown significantly since then.

In just one week this month, Paxton police seized five vehicles under the city ordinance, including one that was also seized under Article 36 of the Illinois Criminal Code and one that was also seized under the state’s Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act.

City officials, however, are now playing the waiting game to see how a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling could affect the police department’s impoundment practices — as well as the resulting revenue stream.

In February, the nation’s highest court ruled unanimously that the forfeiture of a convicted Indiana heroin dealer’s $42,000 Range Rover violated the federal prohibition against excessive fines. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling differed from that of the Indiana Supreme Court, which had found the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on excessive fines applied only to the federal government, not the states.

Paxton Police Chief Coy Cornett told the city council Tuesday night that the ruling’s consequences “haven’t trickled down yet.” Cornett noted that Ford County State’s Attorney Andrew Killian had not yet “said anything about it” and “was all for it” when the police notified him of recent vehicle impoundments.

Cornett said that if there are any consequences locally as a result of the ruling, the police department’s ability to seize vehicles under city ordinance — as opposed to Article 36 or the Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act — may not change. Cornett noted that “city seizures are going to be different” than those made under the two state laws.

The impoundment of vehicles could continue under the two state laws, as well, unless perhaps there is extreme inequity between the value of the vehicle and the illegal gains resulting from its use. In the U.S. Supreme Court case, the $42,000 vehicle was seized after it was used by an Indiana man to sell $225 worth of heroin to undercover agents.

“The case that the Supreme Court decided on had a huge discrepancy between the value of what was taken and the drugs that were seized at the time,” City Attorney Marc Miller said. “In that particular case, it was a really valuable car. People are now trying to get their arms around when do you get close enough between the two (numbers) so the courts would be OK with it. I mean, I think it’s something the chief and I should probably talk about, and we will.”

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