The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday on a civil asset forfeiture case involving a Fort Wayne man convicted of drug dealing this year.

Alucious Kizer’s lawyer argued to the state’s highest court that Kizer has a right to a civil jury trial over the $2,435 seized during his arrest on Sept. 20, 2021, and the state’s attorney argued he doesn’t have that right.

During the arrest, Fort Wayne police seized $1,410 from Kizer and $1,025 from his car, according to court documents.

The state later made a routine filing asking for forfeiture of that money in Allen Circuit Court, but Kizer requested a jury trial.

Then-Judge Wendy Davis initially rejected the jury trial request but reconsidered it and granted one in January 2022, citing Article 1, Section 20 of the Indiana Constitution. The section states that “in all civil cases, the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.”

The Indiana Court of Appeals court sided with the state in September, reversing Davis’ decision.

“It is well-settled that the State’s civil forfeiture complaints are outside of Article 1, Section 20, and are instead equitable claims to be tried by the court,” wrote appellate Judge Paul Mathias, a former judge of Allen Superior Court.

Sam Gedge, Kizer’s attorney, argued that Article 1, Section 20 guarantees “a right that predates Indiana itself, the right to a civil jury trial.”

Chief Justice Loretta Rush pointed out that more than a dozen states allow for jury trials in similar cases. The state’s lawyer, Andrew Kobe, said the money could be seen as contraband or an instrument used to buy more drugs.

Kobe also said the forfeiture is a form of disgorgement, or taking ill-gotten gains made through illegal activity.

Gedge countered that the forfeiture is not disgorgement or restitution because it goes to the state, not to any victims.

“Money isn’t contraband,” Gedge said.

“We can all possess money legally, so it’s not contraband.”

No timeline was given for when the court’s decision is expected.

Former Statehouse and General Assignment Reporter

Reporter Brett Stover covered the Indiana Statehouse and general assignments for The Journal Gazette through May 2023.