WTVC NewsChannel 9 :: News - Top Stories - Legislators Promise to Fix Unfair Law
Wednesday, February 26 2014, 06:58 PM EST
Legislators Promise to Fix Unfair Law

In America, we live by the words "innocent, until proven guilty."

But in Tennessee one law is in place that actually reverses that time honored principle.

Where asset forfeiture is concerned, the state presumes you are guilty and the burden is on you to prove you are not.  The law was put in place to help police fight illegal drugs, but that law goes way beyond the war on drugs and innocent people are getting caught in the crossfire.

Romanzia Humphrey needs a car for the usual reasons -- which include taking her feeble husband Aussie to and from his many doctors visits.  But that's a problem because the state of Tennessee has taken away her car.
Here's what happened.

Late last year, her son Kevin Humphrey borrowed it -- even though he had no valid driver's license. 

Mrs. Humphrey knew his license was revoked.  "I nagged him constantly about it, because I feel like it's a privilege to have a driver's license," she remembers.

A Tennessee state trooper stopped Humphrey here on Highway 153 for speeding, then arrested him for driving on a revoked license, and he ordered Mrs. Humphrey's car seized.  "He made me feel like I had done something," she says, "so I said 'I haven't done anything, why are you taking my car?'  He said, 'it's the law."

And he's right.. in Tennessee police can take away vehicles used during the commission of a crime.

But in this case, those crimes amounted to speeding and driving on revoked.. And they were committed by Kevin Humphrey, not his mother or father.

Now Mrs. Humphrey is making monthly payments on a car the state is refusing to return.

"The property is being held hostage," says attorney Ben McGowan, who has seen many situations like this before.  "Innocent people are being told that the only way that they can recover that property is to pay this ransom for it."

Mrs. Humphrey had to hire McGowan.  He believes, the way the law works.. the state has an incentive to make as many seizures as possible.   The more cars police take away, the more money they make.

Some opponents have labelled this "policing for profit."

"Does there appear to be an overreach of government control in this situation?"

That's the question we posed to Tennessee State Representative Vince Dean, himself a 27-year veteran of law enforcement.

"On the surface, it would absolutely appear that way," he says.

On the Senate side, Bo Watson agrees.  "We want to catch the bad guys and we want to make this a disincentive to the bad guys," he says, "but we don't want to unfairly punish other people."

"If you've got a reason, a real reason to take my property," Mrs. Humphrey says, "you're welcome to it.  I won't fight it.  I could see if it were guns, drugs, or my son was a terrorist in that car."

"Do it," her emphatic response.

"How can the law victimize this woman, and she wasn't even there when the car was stopped?" I asked Representative Dean.  "I agree with you," he says.  "It's very troubling, very troubling, and hopefully we can look at it while we're in session and address it."

In the meantime, since November.. Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey are stuck.   She says the state has offered to return their car -- for three thousand dollars.

She calls that highway robbery.

"We have more things in this county to worry about," she says, "than taking an old woman and old man's car who can't help themselves."

And just to clarify, neither Mrs. Humphrey nor her husband have criminal histories, and the traffic charges against their son Kevin were dismissed.. he now has a driver's license..

But here we are, three months later, the Humphrey's, still has nothing to drive.

We're now told their administrative hearing is set for March 13th, and we'll continue to follow her case and also, promises we heard that the Tennessee Legislature will FIX the law.

By Calvin Sneed

Legislators Promise to Fix Unfair Law

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