September 9, 2021

Massachusetts grandmother Malinda Harris had her car taken away by the government and held for years, even though she hadn’t done a thing to run afoul of the law. Now, Malinda has finally gotten her car back, thanks to the work of the Goldwater Institute.

Malinda Harris

Six years ago, Berkshire County police showed up at Malinda’s home and demanded the keys to her car. Why? Malinda had let her son, Trevice, borrow the car, and the police suspected that Trevice had used it in a crime. Malinda, though, had not been accused of any wrongdoing, and she had no idea that her son might have been involved in illegal activities, either. But nevertheless, her car was hauled away—and there it sat in police custody.

Then, in October 2020, Malinda finally received the legally required notice that state officials were planning to confiscate her car for good. “The stress of this forfeiture…there’s no words for it,” Malinda said at the time.

That’s when the Goldwater Institute teamed up with Malinda. And just days later, Berkshire County agreed to give the car back. Earlier this summer, the court signed the judgment requiring the county to return the vehicle. After years of sitting in an impound lot, Malinda’s car had become undriveable due to non-maintenance and neglect. But after making some minor repairs and replacing the tires, Malinda was able to give to car to her granddaughter, who is starting college this fall.

Berkshire County, Massachusetts, police took and held Malinda Harris’s car for six long years. The Goldwater Institute got involved–and we got Malinda her car back.

Malinda’s story is a shocking one, but sadly, it’s also a common one. Every year, countless innocent Americans are targeted under civil asset forfeiture, laws under which police can take, keep, and profit from someone’s property without even charging them with a crime—much less convicting them of one.  The Goldwater Institute is a national leader in fighting civil forfeiture—and standing up for average Americans against government theft. Last year, for example, Tucson handyman Kevin McBride was left stranded when police confiscated his Jeep—his primary source of income—using civil forfeiture laws and demanded $1,900 to return it. The Goldwater Institute threatened to sue the government, and Kevin got his Jeep back. Goldwater is also making efforts to reform civil asset forfeiture laws around the country, working with state legislatures to change these laws that unfairly harm innocent Americans.

“I am so happy to finally have gotten my car back, and it’s especially gratifying to now share it with my granddaughter as she starts an exciting chapter in her life,” Malinda said. “Innocent Americans like me shouldn’t have to worry about their property getting taken away, and I’m so grateful to the Goldwater Institute for their hard work in getting my car returned to me.”

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Do You Need Help?

The Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation provides free legal representation to those whose constitutional rights are violated by government, including those whose property has been subject to civil forfeiture. Because our resources are limited, we must carefully choose among meritorious cases that will create broadly applicable precedents.

​If you believe you may have a case, write to “Case Inquiries at the Goldwater Institute” by mail at 500 E. Coronado Road, Phoenix, AZ 85004, or email caseinquiry@goldwaterinstitute.org.

We will not take case inquiries over the phone or in person.

PLEASE NOTE:  We welcome inquiries, but due to the large number of inquiries submitted, we are not always able to respond to each one.  If your inquiry falls within our area of expertise, we will make every effort to respond as time and resources permit. Please understand that we cannot provide legal advice unless we agree to take your case.

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