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COA: Don’t include sales tax in forfeiture calculation

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a trial court erred in adding sales tax to the value of goods stolen, which allowed the state to seize the car used by the thief.

Byron Chan stole $97 worth of merchandise from an Indianapolis Menards store. The state filed a complaint seeking forfeiture of the car used by Chan to commit the crime. The sales tax of $7 was added into the complaint, pushing the total over the $100 threshold required to be able to forfeit a vehicle under Indiana Code 34-24-1-1(a)(1)(B).

That statute says a vehicle may be forfeited if it’s used or intended to be used … “if the retail purchase value of that property is $100 or more.” The code doesn’t give a detailed definition of “retail or repurchase value,” but the judges decided it does not include sales tax.

“Both Chan and the State have advanced entirely respectable interpretations of the forfeiture statute. One says ‘retail value’ is the price of the goods without tax, and the other says most people think of value as how much they had to pay when they purchased the goods,” wrote Senior Judge Randall T. Shepard in Byron Chan v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1110-MI-1024.

The judges concluded that “retail or repurchase value” should be read as meaning the price of the goods without the addition of the sales tax due on the transaction.

 

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  • Agreed
    As the Court states, "forfeitures are disfavored", but in practice it is so easy for the state to accomplish them. The defendant is obviously more preoccupied with the criminal case and does not have the resources to defend the civil one.
  • Forfeiture Is A Racket
    The concept of civil asset forfeiture is nothing more than legalized theft. Any forfeiture of an individual's property should take place under the criminal case rather than a civil case, and the individual should be convicted of a crime before his or her property can be forfeited. Under current law, your car, house, retirement and savings accounts, and any other property can be seized under Indiana's civil asset forfeiture laws, and you don't even have to be arrested, charged with, or convicted of any crime. If the county prosecuting attorney and local or state police want your property, they can just take it under these laws, and their buddies on the bench will go along with what they want, since all branches of government probably get a cut of the proceeds. If you try to get records in Hendricks County of what property has been seized and forfeited from individuals and where the proceeds went, you get asked to leave the government offices and get threatened with arrest by sheriff's department and prosecutor's office officials, even though these are supposed to be public records.

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