You poor thing. What a mess. I suggest you start by calling the police station and asking where your car is and how you can get it back. If they tell you that you have to pay a fee, I would ask why, since you did nothing wrong, you simply had a passenger in your car. And that passenger was a suspect in a crime. I assume that there was no criminal activity done in or with the car. Though they might allege that.
If the police just want to search your car because they think that your passenger might have hidden something in it or there could be evidence of his alleged criminal conduct, then they may keep it for a bit (or a long while sorry to say) but they should return it to you when they are done. You may end up having to fight them over that if they want to keep the car for a while for this purpose, cause criminal cases can go on for a very long time.
If they insist you have to pay a fee, then you have two choices:
- Pay the fee, get your car back, and then fight it.
- Refuse to pay the fee, fight it, but watch the fees accrue while you fight.
If I were you, and this is really more personal advice than legal advice, I would do the first. You don’t want to risk owing a fortune or having your car auctioned off or something like that. I am a risk-averse kind of person though. I would want to minimize my potential damages now and fight about it later. I do not know if that is what a lawyer who handles cases in this practice area would advise, mind you. I am not writing this as a lawyer, I am writing it as a person who feels terrible for you.
If they insist on a fee or just refuse to return your car, I would start by reaching out to your local leadership. That is your mayor or city council. Then your state legislators. You could do that before you pay and see if they respond quickly.
You can also work your way up to someone higher at the police station, watch officer, chief of police, even the police commissioner, and see if you can get help.
If you cannot get help you will probably need to retain a lawyer, sorry to say. Then you will need to decide if it is worth it to hire a lawyer to fight (if they return your car for a fee) or just let it go. The problem with hiring a lawyer is it could cost more than any fee. However, there may be a group out there that will help you. If this is a civil forfeiture issue there are groups that fight that. You also could go to the press, cause this sort of thing sometimes can get attention.
Civil forfeiture comes up when the police argue that the item that was taken was being used for a crime, even if that thing did not belong to the person committing the crime. The Supreme Court ruled on the issue recently because of rampant abuse.
Really, I am sorry you are in this situation. I am not an expert by any stretch in this area of the law. I don’t know if what I have written helps you. Maybe someone who has more knowledge will comment.
I wish you the best though.
I will add, I find the scenario, as described, unlikely.
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