We pride ourselves in this country on our Constitution and the protections it gives us from the abuses of Big Government. Perhaps most prominent of these rights is the "presumption of innocence", and the associated right not to have our freedoms or property taken without due process of law.
Except in drunk driving cases…
As I’ve written ad nauseum in the past, there is clearly a DUI Exception to the Constitution in our criminal justice system — and has been for many years. See, for example, The Disappearing Right to Jury Trials…in DUI Cases, Another DUI Exception to the Constitution and The DUI Exception Continues.
If you need any examples of this, just consider the following news article published online this morning….
Federal Appeals Court Upholds Ferrari Confiscation
Suffolk County, NY. Jan. 13 – The Second Circuit US Court of Appeals upheld the government’s confiscation of James B. Ferrari’s Ferrari in a ruling last week. Officials in Suffolk County, New York had grabbed the 2003 Ferrari Modena coupe, valued at $95,000, after Ferrari was stopped and accused of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) on May 26, 2009.
A police officer saw the Ferrari allegedly reaching speeds over 100 MPH on South Country Road in Bellport. Ferrari was arrested and his Ferrari confiscated under the state’s drunk driving statute. Ferrari’s attorney argued the Due Process clause of the Constitution required the exotic automobile be returned after his client posted a bond — at least while the charges were being litigated in court. At that point, Ferrari had not be found guilty of any crime. Ferrari’s attorney insisted that it was the county’s burden to prove the seizure was the only possible remedy to the situation, and a judge and jury both agreed. They ordered the county to pay $95,000 to Ferrari to compensate for the loss of his automobile.
A three-judge appellate panel overturned that judgment in last week’s decision, pointing to Ferrari’s long and sordid history of serious driving offenses, including past DUIs…
"Indeed, if the ultimate forfeiture of a car may validly serve the purpose of preventing this forfeited item of property from being further used as an instrumentality of crime, it is not evident why retention pendente lite [i.e. while litigation is pending] cannot serve, in at least some circumstances, a similar purpose," Judge Debra Ann Livingston wrote for the Second Circuit…
So before the defendant was ever convicted of any crime, his car (not incidentally worth a lot of money to local government authorities) was confiscated by the government. Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t there a presumption of guilt being applied here? And isn’t the appellate judge basically saying, "Yes, you are presumed not to have been driving drunk — and we’re going to confiscate your car so that you don’t do it again"?
(Thanks to Joe.)