Photo of Andrew Hemmer

Andrew Hemmer

  • Hosted by Cabrini Green Legal Aid
  • Sponsored by Seyfarth Shaw LLP, United Airlines, Inc.
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Issue area Civil Rights/Civil Liberties
  • Fellowship class year 2016
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Chicago’s vehicle impound system is particularly aggressive, seizing cars and fining their owners thousands of dollars for dozens of different offenses. Due to certain offenses, and oppressively steep resulting fines, cars in Chicago can be impounded indefinitely, even if the owner is not present or charged of a crime. Thousands of vehicles that allegedly have some connection to criminal activity are impounded each year by the Chicago Police Department. Deprived of transportation and the ability to get to work and earn a living, residents’ lives quickly spiral out of control.

In total, Chicago fined motorists more than $17 million between March 2017 and March 2018 for 31 different types of offenses, ranging from DUI to having illegal fireworks in a car to playing music too loud, according to data from the Chicago Administrative Hearings Department. About $10 million of those fines were for driving on a suspended license, and more than $3 million were for drug offenses. The program impounds cars even when the owner beats a criminal case or isn’t charged with a crime in the first place. It impounds cars even when the owner isn’t driving, like when a child is borrowing a parent’s car.

Andrew’s project aimed to provide direct representation to vehicle owners in city impoundment proceedings and state forfeiture proceedings, with the ultimate goal of successfully advocating for changes in state and city policies surrounding civil asset forfeiture. Andrew created Cabrini Green Legal Aid’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Defense Project (CAFDP), which provides representation to individuals who have had their vehicles impounded due to arrests, stopping further cycles of poverty.

Fellowship Highlights

During his Fellowship, Andrew provided full representation to 117 clients in a total of approximately 170 cases, including state forfeiture cases, city impoundment proceedings, and city appeals. He referred 26 forfeiture cases to pro bono attorneys at United and Seyfarth, the sponsors of his Fellowship, with approximately 27 pro bono attorneys participating. Additionally, Andrew served as chair of a subcommittee of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice’s Forms Committee, leading a team of judges and lawyers to create statewide standardized forms for pro se litigants in civil asset forfeiture cases.

Andrew also worked with legislators, the ACLU, Illinois State Bar Association, and others on the drafting and negotiation of House Bill 303 (Senate Amendment 1), which passed recently. He participated in in-person negotiations with law enforcement groups in Springfield in March and May and drafted sections of the law- including the “innocent owner hearing” provisions that allow an innocent owner to file a motion for an expedited hearing. As a result of our efforts and others, the state’s attorney’s office has begun changing its enforcement policies in forfeiture cases- dismissing more cases and deciding on criteria for what cases they will and will not accept from the police.

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Andrew plans to begin a two-year federal clerkship with Judge Carol Mirando in the Middle District of Florida.

Media

Chicago Is Trying to Pay Down Its Debt by Impounding Innocent People’s Cars

Illinois Issues: Civil Asset Forfeiture Critics Complain Innocent People Pay

Vetting Worthy Pro Bono Projects

The most striking thing was going to court and seeing the sheer number of people who didn’t have anyone to represent them. That showed me the need.

Andrew Hemmer /
Corporate Counsel Business Journal

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