High court upholds seizure of woman’s Harley; Karmeier dissent: ‘In the eyes of the law, she was guilty of nothing’

By Record News | Feb 20, 2018

SPRINGFIELD – Police properly seized a three wheel Harley-Davidson vehicle from a woman who committed no crime, the Illinois Supreme Court decided on Feb. 16. 

Five of seven Justices found Petra Henderson of Robinson culpable for husband Mark Henderson driving under the influence without a license. 

Justice Thomas Kilbride wrote that Petra “candidly admitted to this court that she consented to her husband driving the motorcycle on the night of his arrest despite knowing about his intoxication and revoked license.” 

He rejected her constitutional claim of an excessive fine, finding she failed to establish any value for the Harley except its $35,000 sale price in 2010. 

Dissenting Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier took judicial notice of a dealer guide showing value in the Robinson area between $16,000 and $21,000. 

“In the absence of specific evidence of value as of the time of forfeiture, the majority effectively treats the vehicle’s value as zero,” Karmeier wrote. 

Karmeier wouldn’t have allowed any forfeiture at all. 

He wrote that the statute requires consent and not mere acquiescence. 

“Illinois long ago rejected the notion that voluntary submission by a female who still has the power to resist, no matter how reluctantly yielded, amounts to her consent to the act,” he wrote. 

“The majority’s opinion takes us backwards to a time when some thought otherwise. I will not go there with them.” 

Justice Anne Burke also dissented. 

She wrote that Crawford County Circuit Judge Christopher Weber committed error by failing to analyze or discuss the constitutional claim. 

“The majority now compounds the trial court’s error, rejecting claimant’s constitutional claim on the merits even though the facts necessary for a proper analysis of that claim are completely absent from the record,” she wrote. 

Robinson police officer Dan Strauch arrested Mark Henderson after midnight on April 26, 2014, after following the Harley from a bar to the Henderson home. 

Police seized the Harley, which belonged to Petra. 

At a forfeiture hearing, Petra testified that she objected to Mark driving but he refused to get off. 

She said she knew he was intoxicated and had no driver’s license; she said he told her that her only alternative was to walk. 

“I just didn’t want to walk home at that point,” Petra said. 

Her husband Henderson testified that, “She couldn’t stop me, dude.” 

“I’m stronger than she is,” he said.  “She didn’t have the fob. I did.” 

Judge Weber ordered forfeiture, finding Petra’s testimony self serving and not credible. 

Petra moved for reconsideration, arguing for the first time that forfeiture violated an Eighth Amendment prohibition on excessive fines and punishments. 

Weber denied reconsideration, and Petra appealed. 

Fifth District judges reversed Weber, finding he violated the Eighth Amendment. 

Crawford County State’s Attorney Matthew Hartrich appealed to the Supreme Court, and there he prevailed. 

Kilbride wrote that Weber determined that Petra’s testimony wasn’t credible. 

“We afford great deference to that finding because that court was in a superior position to evaluate the testimony and credibility than is this court, with our review limited to a cold written record,” Kilbride wrote. 

He wrote that Weber’s findings adequately supported a conclusion that Petra bore more than marginal culpability for the public danger Mark created. 

Justices Charles Freeman, Robert Thomas, Rita Garman and Mary Jane Theis concurred. 

Karmeier’s dissent ran more than twice as long as Kilbride’s opinion. 

“With the resigned pragmatism one might develop from being married to a 59 year old chronic drunk, Petra figured she had only two options,” Karmeier wrote. 

He wrote that if she got on the trike, she risked injury but could at least exercise some oversight. If she let him drive off, he would have unsupervised control of her expensive vehicle and might head off to who knows where. 

He wrote that if she had not been married to Mark, she could have faced a misdemeanor for allowing him to drive, with a maximum fine of $2,500. But as a spouse, she was not subject even to that minor offense. 

“In the eyes of the law, she was guilty of nothing,” Karmeier wrote.

“Forfeitures are generally disfavored under the law, and courts must be vigilant in safeguarding the rights of innocent people who have legitimate interests in the property at issue. 

“The object of a forfeiture proceeding, like a criminal proceeding, is to penalize the commission of an offense against the law.” 

He wrote that the state made no attempt to prove that Petra had any idea why Mark had lost his license. 

“The couple was married, to be sure, but we do not know for how long, and in any case, observation and experience in the ordinary affairs of life counsel that chronic drunks can rarely be counted on to make full disclosure to their wives regarding the details of their encounters with the law,” Karmeier wrote. 

He wrote that Petra’s testimony at the forfeiture hearing supported her position, but that alone didn’t render it self serving and unreliable. 

“To hold otherwise given the complete absence of impeaching or contradicting evidence here would be tantamount to saying that the testimony of a party in interest is inherently unworthy of belief,” Karmeier wrote. 

He wrote that if Henderson had owned the Harley, Petra could have filed a hardship petition to have the title forfeited to her. 

“If her husband, the actual wrongdoer, had been the owner, the case could have ended with the trike being titled to her and the vehicle put right back in the couple’s garage ready for another ride,” he wrote. 

He wrote that Henderson’s violation was very serious and he deserved the punishment. 

“Had the state’s central concern here really been with cracking down on drunk drivers, a range of punishments was at its disposal, including imprisonment,” Henderson wrote. 

He wrote that Mark could have been sentenced up to three years in the Department of Corrections and fined up to $25,000. 

“If the state and the trial court thought harsher punishment was due, the husband should not have been given probation,” he wrote. 

Assistant attorney general Jason Kriegel represented the state.

Jon Anderson of Robinson represented Petra.

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