Supreme Court refuses to rule on forfeiture case

Md., Baltimore sought review of property seizure

October 13, 1999|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A move by Maryland and Baltimore officials to persuade the Supreme Court to make it easier for police to seize property used by criminal suspects ended in failure yesterday.

Without comment, the court rejected an appeal by city and state officials, supported by 23 other states, that urged the justices to reconsider a 1965 ruling on property forfeitures.

In the earlier ruling, the court barred forfeitures of property that are based on evidence that police obtained through illegal methods. In that case, the court said police in Pennsylvania could not seize a car that was found to be carrying 31 cases of illegal liquor because officers had searched the car illegally.

Maryland and Baltimore officials, in their new appeal, urged the court to cast aside that ruling and rule that forfeiture cases may proceed even if key evidence had been seized wrongly by police.

More recent decisions by the highest court, the appeal argued, have undercut the 1965 precedent. The 23 states that supported the appeal said the prior decision "makes little sense and should no longer be forced upon a reluctant judiciary."

Maryland's Court of Appeals ruled in February that it was bound by the 1965 precedent and applied it to bar a Baltimore police attempt to seize a 1995 Chevrolet Corvette.

The car had been found to be carrying $65,000 worth of illegal drugs. Police sought its forfeiture under a state law that permits the seizure of all equipment used to make or ship illegal drugs.

The driver of the Corvette, which police stopped in 1996 on the belief that it had just been used in a drug deal, was not prosecuted in the incident.

Prosecutors apparently believed that because the evidence might have been seized from the car illegally, a criminal charge would not stand up. Police moved unsuccessfully to seize the car.

Pub Date: 10/13/99

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