Every few months the Chicago Tribune or Chicago Sun Times will run an article about a huge drug bust where police seize a vehicle containing between $100,000 and $1,000,000 of marijuana or illegal drugs..
Some Chicago residents may find it reasonable for the City of Chicago or the State of Illinois to seize the vehicles used in transportation of hundreds of pounds of drugs. However, should the City of Chicago or the State of Illinois seize a vehicle when police officers find only a few grams of cocaine or a bag of marijuana? Few people in the City of Chicago are aware that the owner of a vehicle can suffer a $2,000 fine and vehicle impoundment if their passenger is caught carrying drugs.
Unlawful drugs in motor vehicle – Impoundment (Chicago Municipal Code § 7-24-225) provides:
The owner of record of any motor vehicle that contains any controlled substance or cannabis, as defined in the Controlled Substances Act, 720 ILCS 570/100, et seq., and the Cannabis Control Act, 720 ILCS 550/1, et seq., or that is used in the purchase, attempt to purchase, sale or attempt to sell such controlled substances or cannabis shall be liable to the city for an administrative penalty of $2,000 plus any applicable towing and storage fees. If the violation takes place within 500 feet of the boundary line of a public park or elementary or secondary school, the penalty shall be $3,000 plus towing and storage fees. Any such vehicle shall be subject to seizure and impoundment pursuant to this section.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of getting your car impounded because a passenger was carrying a small amount of drugs you still have some options. Unfortunately, the City of Chicago does not have an innocent owner defense. There are three statutory defenses you may raise:
(1) the vehicle used in the violation was stolen at the time and the theft was reported to the appropriate police authorities within 24 hours after the theft was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered;
(2) the vehicle was operating as a common carrier and the violation occurred without the knowledge of the person in control of the vehicle; or
(3) the alleged owner provides adequate proof that the vehicle had been sold to another person prior to the violation.
If none of these defenses apply to your case you may still succeed by requesting a preliminary hearing and a full hearing if necessary as allowed by Chicago Code. These cases are often won through aggressive legal advocacy and attacking whether or not legal documents used in the impoundment were properly filled out. This statue was recently upheld by the 1st District Appellate Court in Jackson v. City of Chicago.