The Tennessee Supreme Court has held in favor of a man represented by attorney Ben Raybin, who argued that the State failed to follow proper procedure in seizing property.
Tennessee’s civil forfeiture statutes allow the State to obtain forfeiture of property “used in the commission” of certain crimes, including possession of child pornography. The State applied these laws in seizing Charles Sprunger’s house upon his arrest for possessing illegal images on his computer.
On appeal, Mr. Sprunger asserted that the State failed to follow the procedures required under the forfeiture statutes. Because his now-seized house was his primary asset, he lacked funds to hire an attorney and had to represent himself from prison. However, when the Tennessee Supreme Court agreed to consider his case, it appointed attorney Ben Raybin to represent him on a pro bono basis.
Following briefing and oral argument, the Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Sprunger: “As can be readily seen, the forfeiture proceedings that occurred in this case bear little resemblance to the procedures set forth in the applicable statutes.” The Court thus ordered that the proceeds from the sale of his home be returned to Mr. Sprunger.