The District of Columbia's "post and forfeit" procedure is controversial, but a Washington federal judge ruled today that it doesn't violate the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizures.
Under the "post and forfeit" process, individuals arrested for certain misdemeanor crimes, such as disorderly conduct, can pay a small amount of collateral and then forfeit it in exchange for essentially having the case dropped. The process has been criticized in the past as a way for police to cover up cases in which they made an unlawful arrest.
The decision (PDF) today from U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson represented the latest defeat for Hamilton Fox III, an assistant bar counsel in Washington who sued the city after he was arrested for disorderly conduct. Fox, who opted to "post and forfeit" after his arrest, claimed that police didn't have probable cause to arrest him and that "post and forfeit" in general was coercive and illegal.
Jackson, in her opinion, said that "post and forfeit" wasn't a seizure and it wasn't unreasonable – two standards for a Fourth Amendment claim. She pointed to a previous decision in which she found that it was a voluntary process and noted that an arrestee also has 90 days to reconsider and ask for his or her money back.
Fox declined to comment. His attorney, local solo practitioner William Claiborne III, and a spokesman for the D.C. attorney general's office could not immediately be reached this afternoon.
Jackson had already dismissed much of Fox's complaint last March, but he filed an amended complaint with the new Fourth Amendment claim and a claim that "post and forfeit" was common law conversion. The conversion claim relied on the theory that "post and forfeit" represented an unlawful deprivation of property, so Jackson found that the same analysis she used to dismiss the Fourth Amendment claim applied.
The judge also denied Fox's motion for reconsideration of the previous March 2012 decision, finding that Fox made arguments Jackson already rejected or he made new arguments he had never raised in the past.
Jackson didn't address a motion for judgment on behalf of individual police officers whom Fox sued over his arrest.