In April 2013, Rhonda Cox, who lives in San Tan Valley, Arizona, bought a 2004 Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck that she found on Craigslist for $6,000. A few months later, she had to pay another $1,300 to replace the engine after it threw a rod. Her 20-year-old son, Christopher Clark, who frequently borrowed the truck, installed the new engine on August 1. The next day, Cox got a call from a deputy with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department, who informed her that Christopher had been arrested for stealing a hood and a cargo-bed cover that he had installed on the truck, which now belonged to the cops and prosecutors handling the case.

In theory, Cox could challenge this forfeiture by arguing that she was an innocent owner who had no idea that her property was being used for criminal purposes (which she was). But in practice, as the ACLU of Arizona explains in a federal lawsuit it filed today on Cox’s behalf, that truck was gone as soon as the sheriff’s department seized it. Cox could not afford to hire an attorney, whose fees probably would have exceeded the value of the truck. So she tried to get her property back on her own. The first step was appealing to the Pinal County Attorney’s Office—the very agency that would share the proceeds from the forfeiture with the sheriff’s department.

“I am an innocent owner who had no knowledge and could have not reasonably known my 2004 Chevy Colorado would potentially be used in a crime,” Cox said in her “Petition for Remission or Mitigation.” “I allowed my son to use the vehicle as a way to better himself and get on his feet until such time he could purchase his own vehicle. The vehicle was never intended to belong to him and in fact was intended more for the use of hauling recreational vehicles and for my daughter to use once she obtained her drivers license. If the vehicle is seized it is I, the innocent owner who will be out the value of the vehicle and essentially punished.”

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