State Supreme Court: Parents can keep cars used by drug dealing son
The state Supreme Court ruled today that parents must know for certain that their children are using their cars to deal drugs before the authorities can seize those cars.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A note to oblivious parents from a sharply divided state Supreme Court Thursday:
If your son borrows your cars, and uses them to get high and deal drugs, the fact that you "should have known" he was operating a mobile, illicit pharmacy isn't enough for the government to seize your vehicles.
You actually have to know.
The 5-4 ruling by the state's high court Thursday means Alan and Stephne Roos, of Bothell, will get to keep their 2004 Nissan Sentra and 1970 Chevy Chevelle, which their adult son, Thomas, had been using to peddle drugs in 2005.
But the dissenters on the court said the ruling lets the Rooses get away with "burying their heads in the sand" about their son's criminal behavior.
Thomas Roos, then 24, was arrested several times in the summer of 2005 in Snohomish County when cops found him in cars with lots of various drugs, including cocaine, OxyContin and methamphetamine.
On two occasions, the police had found him passed out in his parents' cars with various drugs and cash.
Prosecutors in Snohomish County sought to seize the cars. He was later charged with drug offenses.
The Rooses said that while they had loaned the cars to their son, they never had any idea he was using them to sell drugs. Under state law, property can't be seized if the actual owner — of a car or house for example — is found to be an "innocent owner."
A hearing examiner, however, decided that the Rooses had "reason to know what Thomas was up to and failed to take appropriate steps to ensure their vehicles were not used in such a manner," according to the high-court ruling. The state Appeals Court agreed.
But Thursday's ruling says that's not the standard the state Legislature and previous Supreme Court rulings have established for an "innocent owner." The law on forfeiture uses only the word "knowledge," not phrases such as "knows or has reason to know," the majority ruled in an opinion written by Justice Charles W. Johnson.
He was joined by justices Gerry Alexander, Richard Sanders, Tom Chambers and Debra Stephens.
The dissenters said that while they agree with the majority's analysis, it doesn't fit the facts in this case.
Justice Barbara Madsen wrote the Rooses could make a convincing argument that they didn't know Thomas was dealing drugs out of the Nissan before he was arrested in the early summer of 2005. But by the time he was caught unconscious in the Chevelle, in September, he had been arrested twice more for drug crimes.
"The hearing officer was correct to infer that from that point on, the Rooses' denial of Thomas' drug activity amounted to burying their heads in the sand," she wrote. "Because the Rooses did not take steps to prevent Thomas' use of the second car, the Chevelle, even after they knew of his arrest in the Nissan with a 110-gram brick of cocaine, I would uphold the hearing officer's forfeiture of the Chevelle."
She was joined by justices Susan Owens, Mary Fairhurst and James M. Johnson.
The majority of justices said that reasoning doesn't amount to proof of knowledge.
"Perhaps a person should know many things, but often the opposite could be true, like here: The parents could have just as easily presumed their son's criminal activities would stop after the first arrest, just as they could have suspected their son's criminal activities would continue," the opinion says.
Ian Ith: 206-464-2109 or email@example.com
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