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After Husband's DUI, Supreme Court OKs Seizure Of Wife's Harley

Flickr.com/morgnar (CC-BY-NC)

A divided Illinois Supreme Court says it was OK for the government to seize a woman’s Harley-Davidson — even though it was her husband who used it to drive drunk.

Petra Henderson had been driving her husband to various bars, but eventually he jumped on her Harley and basically told her: Get on or walk home.

The state says by getting on, Henderson was consenting to let her husband drive, and basically enabling a crime.

Five of the Supreme Court justices agreed with that logic.

But two dissented, including Justice Anne Burke. When the case was argued last year, she had raised questions about Henderson’s alleged “consent": “In real life, what is she supposed to do? Drag him off the motorcycle? So what kind of consent is that?”

Henderson’s lawyer is James Campion. He says he thought the key question in the case was: What should happen when the owner of seized property is not the person who committed the crime?

“I really thought that’s what they wanted to address, and make some statement on — and some policy on it," he said Monday in a telephone interview. "They didn't seem to do that at all."

Henderson paid $35,000 for the Harley a few years before it was seized. She had argued that taking it was an "excessive fine,” prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.
The majority found she failed to prove how much her motorcycle was worth. One of the dissenting justices, however, says if that’s so — the case should have been sent back to the trial court, so Henderson could present evidence of the Harley’s value.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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