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IN Supreme Court rules in favor of jury trials for civil confiscation cases

Indiana residents are entitled to a trial by jury when the government seeks to confiscate their money or property through the civil forfeiture process, the state’s high court ruled.

In a 5-0 decision Tuesday, the Indiana Supreme Court found that the history of civil forfeiture proceedings, from medieval England to Indiana statehood, weighs in favor of letting a jury decide whether property allegedly associated with a crime should be seized by the state, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported.

“We hold that a claimant in an action brought under Indiana’s civil forfeiture statute has a constitutional right to trial by jury,” Justice Christopher Goff wrote on behalf of the court.

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Indiana Fox News graphic

The justices’ unanimous ruling reinforces a fundamental constitutional guarantee, an attorney said. (Fox News)

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Tuesday’s ruling also establishes a new test for the jury-trial right contained in Article I, Section 20 of the Indiana Constitution.

The decision stems from a case involving Alucious Kizer, who was convicted in December 2022 of three counts of drug dealing and sentenced to a total of 20 years in state prison.

Kizer, 45, will now have an opportunity to get the jury trial he initially requested more than two years ago to determine whether the $2,435 in cash recovered during his arrest for drug dealing in Allen County should be forfeited.

Kizer was represented before the state Supreme Court by the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, which has repeatedly challenged Indiana’s civil forfeiture laws, including authorities’ seizure of a Land Rover belonging to Tyson Timbs of Marion, Indiana, who was arrested in 2013 for selling $400 in drugs. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the U.S. Constitution’s ban on excessive fines applies to the states.

More than two years after the high court’s ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Timbs could keep his $35,000 vehicle.

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Sam Gedge, the senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, argued Kizer’s case before the Indiana Supreme Court. He said Tuesday that the justices’ unanimous ruling reinforces a fundamental constitutional guarantee.

“The right to a trial by jury of our peers is core to our system of justice. And for centuries, courts across the nation have confirmed the obvious: When the government sues to forfeit your property, you’re entitled to make your case to a jury,” Gedge said.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita had argued in Kizer’s case that no right to a jury trial exists under the federal or state constitutions and that a trial by a judge is sufficient, since civil forfeiture of property in Indiana is a purely statutory procedure of relatively modern vintage.

The Associated Press emailed Rokita’s office Wednesday seeking comment.

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