Civil asset forfeiture law yields private cars to highwayman, shields commercial vehicles


Private cars and trucks are subjject to the state forfeiture statute, but not vehicles in commerce. (Photo Gribblenation)

The distinction in Tennessee law between travel and transportation is found everywhere. Today I am talking with state Rep. Mike Carter regarding reform in the civil asset forfeiture statute that pares back some of the evils of state’s highwayman program. The reforms are good, but they don’t alter the focus of the statute, which is against people on only one side of the travel-transportation distinction.

Civil asset forfeiture is aimed only at travelers (private), and overlooks and does not try to injure people involved in transportation (corporate, commercial, for profit).

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

The legislature in the first provisions of the statute wants to make clear it is going after private men and women on the road, not corporations doing business and making a profit from the people’s great asset, the highways in the state.

“[C]onveyances, including vehicles, aircraft or vessels, are subject to forfeiture if used in the commission” of a number of crimes including burglary, theft and robbery.

The statute allows for quick seizure of private cars used by private people as travelers. A shield, however, protects conveyances that are motor vehicles used by operators and drivers in commerce.

The statute says: “No conveyance used by any person as a common carrier in the transaction of business as a common carrier is subject to forfeiture under this part, unless it appears that the owner or other person in charge of the conveyance is a consenting party or privy to any of the offenses” given in a list just above. (Tenn. Code Ann. 40-33-101(b)(1)

Rental companies are protected because they are in commerce and generally cannot be shown to have known about the alleged crime connected with the user of the car or truck.

“[I]f the conveyance belongs to an automobile or truck rental company, the burden of proof shall be on the state to prove that the automobile or truck rental company knew, or had reason to know, that the conveyance was or would be used in the commission of an offense for which this part provides for forfeiture of the conveyance.”

The law also gives people with a secured interest in a car or truck rights to have the seized conveyance returned if they can show they did not know anything about the alleged crime of the person who had custody of the car or truck.

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