Richard Martinez spent decades searching for his perfect car. He finally found it at Jabaay Motors, Merrillville, Indiana. It was a 1959 Corvette convertible with hardtop. The Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP), seized the vehicle as “contraband” when Martinez tried to register it back in Kansas. The vehicle is now in Topeka, where it is being held until Martinez files a legal challenge.
Martinez has held state custody of Martinez’s convertible since 2017, which cost him $55,000. According to Martinez, the convertible cost $50,000 and has been in state custody ever since. He claims it was damaged while being stored. If he does get the car back, he will need to pay $28,000 more for repairs. This is on top of $30,000 already spent on legal fees.
Kansas law states that any vehicle whose Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), police can seize. These “contraband vehicles” “shall not be accepted.” A car legally purchased from someone without any reason for knowing its VIN number is not exempt.
KCTV in Kansas City, a CBS station reports that Martinez’s dashboard VIN plate was taken out during restoration of the Corvette and replaced by new rivets. “Many states allow VINs to be reattached following restoration,” KCTV reports. The car had already been registered and licensed in another state. Kansas is not as flexible. According to the station, “the VIN number was not helpful” because the original engine of the car that had been 62 years old has been rebuilt. Police used a mirror to locate a third inconsistent VIN number in an “espionage” area under the car.
“The government admits that Mr. Martinez did not do anything wrong,” Kansas Justice Institute, KJI notes in an amicus brief. It argues that the statute that requires the seizing of convertibles violates due process. Martinez, according to the prosecution, was not “aware of” the statute. [VIN]issues and defects” to say that “there’s no doubt” he is an “innocent owner.” However, according to the law, it does not matter.
Martinez said to KCTV, “This is unfair.” “Everybody says I didn’t do anything.” These were the states that had [the car]It was approved by them.”
According to the KJI, in 1982 the Illinois Supreme Court declared that similar laws were not subject to due process. Allison Bridegroom (a man) was involved in this case. He had bought a Pontiac Grand Prix 1979 and didn’t realize that the confidential VIN had been altered. According to the Illinois law’s effect, the court stated that it would “strip all rights of the owner of an automobile” by declaring it contraband. This was despite the fact that the buyer is innocent, had no means of discovering wrongdoing and no rights of any other persons.
Illinois Supreme Court rejected arguments that the law had undermined the car theft market, even though it punished innocent owners. It stated that while it is true that car theft prevention and catching thieves are both important goals, the law does not seem to penalize innocent buyers. “Bridegroom did all he could to ensure that the registration number of the vehicle located at the location required by regulations was the same as the number on his title. This is what the statute can constitutionally mandate. Although a vehicle number can be placed in a hidden or secret place to identify it, such numbers cannot be used as a means of declaring the vehicle contraband. A due process violation is when such a declaration is made.
According to the KJI, Martinez’s Corvette being seized and destroyed is also an infringement of due process. According to the brief, the Kansas law was unconstitutionally vague as it allowed the KHP (the Kansas Highway Patrol) to issue a new VIN if it felt that the vehicle had “no stolen parts”. It did not specify what it meant.
Martinez and Jabaay Motors argue that Martinez’s provision meant the KHP could register the Corvette rather than seize it. But the state says “there is no way for the Patrol to assign a new number to the vehicle…because there is no way to determine that the vehicle contains no stolen parts.” The state also stated that nobody “has found any parts stolen from the vehicle.”
While the KHP was able to “investigate whether Mr. Martinez stole parts from his car,” it took the KJI four years. The KJI brief noted that the government “actually” had the opportunity to do so. stillThey maintain that it’s not You will be satisfied that the car does not contain stolen parts, and thus cannot assign a VIN….Under the government’s reading of the statute, HappinessIt is solely a matter of its will. It doesn’t matter if the government is supported with evidence. It is the government that decides what the term “is satisfied” means.
Martinez began Martinez’s forfeiture case in Johnson County District Court last summer. Judge Martinez requested input from Derek Schmidt (KJI) and the Kansas Attorney General. Schmidt declined.
But unlike in civil forfeiture cases where the police and prosecutors are involved in Martinez’s case, they do not hold any financial interest in its fate. Instead, they intend to take it down. However, the case raises the question of whether it is just to penalize an innocent person while naming him the defendant. This legal fiction allows for the circumvention of the normal due process protections.
Sam MacRoberts (KJI Litigation Director) says, “Asset forfeiture” is a serious problem. “But it’s especially bad in this case because the government admits Mr. Martinez did nothing wrong….When the government knows someone is innocent, they shouldn’t use their power and resources to take their property. Kansas forfeiture laws can be blamed. Kansas Constitution and the United States do not allow the government to recognize an individual’s innocence and, with the other hand, declare innocent persons property ‘contraband.’