Suit Challenges Arizona Civil Forfeiture Laws

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 5:54pm
Updated: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 6:03pm

A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday challenges the state laws that allow law enforcement agencies to directly profit from seizing property believed to be linked to criminal activity. The suit argues Arizona’s civil forfeiture laws create an incentive for law enforcement to seize assets since agencies can keep the money from the sale of the items they seize.

“In many ways, Arizona’s civil forfeiture laws are among the worst, if not the worst, in the country,” said J. Cabou, an attorney with Perkins Coie who brought the suit along with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The suit claims some assets seized in Pinal County were funneled into a foundation that bought sheriff’s office equipment without needing to follow procurement rules, while other profits paid for the county attorney’s home alarm system.

The suit follows the seizure of one woman’s pick-up truck in 2013.

According to the lawsuit, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office deputies seized Rhonda Cox’s truck after Cox’s son borrowed the truck and was arrested for putting stolen property on the truck.

The suit said Cox tried to fight for her truck back in court and paid a $304 filing fee. But Cox was told if she lost, she’d have to pay the prosecutor’s legal fees.

Cabou said that convinced Cox to give up.

“Every single thing that you as a claimant do to get your property back costs you money if you lose,” Cabou said. “Because every hour the prosecutor spends on the case, responding to a motion, being in court, they can ultimately charge you for.”

Both the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and the County Attorney’s office declined comment.