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Do Wisconsin Parents Pay the Price for their Kids Drug Crimes?

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TRAFFIC-POLICE-in-car-mirrorBy Attorney Steven McGaver

A recent case in Whitewater, Wisconsin should provide cause for parents to more carefully monitor the actions of their children when using their automobile. The case which involves a 20-year-old freshman student from UW-Whitewater directly impacts her father, who owns the car in which she used to sell drugs.

The student used her father's car at school and as a means to come home on the weekends and for transportation around the campus and surrounding area. Additionally, and unknown to her father, she also used it to sell drugs to a confidential informant on three separate occasions this past spring. Instead of being charged with a drug crime, law enforcement officials chose to seize the vehicle under the State of Wisconsin's forfeiture law.

The rationale for the forfeiture by the judge was that the student would "suffer the greatest consequence of the car's forfeiture because she would no longer have transportation." Additionally, it was believed that seizing her car would also make it more difficult to sell drugs. The father fought the ruling indicating that he was an "innocent owner" however, the Wisconsin State Court of Appeals found in favor of the Walworth County judge who originally declared the forfeiture.

This raises interesting questions and concern for parents who allow their children to use a parent-owned vehicle. Can items that they own be taken away if their children utilize them for illegal activities such as drug crimes? One might argue (as the parent in this case did) that the parent, and not the child is the owner, and the parent was not engaging in the illegal activity so there are no grounds for forfeiture.

Unless this parent decides to fight the case further by taking it to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, they are out a car and any potential resale value. Additionally, the student will most likely require transportation to and from school in the future. However, even if the parent prevails in a higher court, the car will have depreciated in value significantly or could possibly be sold before it can be recovered. It will be interesting to see how the case plays out in the coming months.

So, what is the lesson in all of this? First and foremost, talk to your kids, and let them know the black and white facts about the potential difficulties they could create if they are caught in and illegal activity such as a drug crime (This student was actually lucky not to be charged with a drug crime as well!). Additionally, if you find yourself in a similar situation, contact a lawyer immediately to determine the most logical course of action.

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