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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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    2. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

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    4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

    5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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