Asset Forfeiture

Owner to Get Classic Corvette Back

By Todd Pittenger | August 18, 2022

A classic 1959 Corvette which was seized by the Kansas Highway Patrol won’t be crushed and instead the owner will get it back.

Richard Martinez’s dream car, a 1959 Corvette, was seized by the Kansas Highway Patrol  in 2017.  He brought the car back to Kansas after purchasing it at a dealership in Indianapolis. A routine VIN-number check at the Kansas Highway Patrol led to a troubling discovery. While the car was being restored the VIN plate was removed to fix damage underneath it. When it was replaced the wrong style of rivets were used to attach it. Under Kansas law at the time it was unlawful to remove a VIN plate. The car was deemed to be contraband.

According to the Kansas Justice Institute, now more than five years later, Martinez is set to finally take a ride in his classic Corvette after a Johnson County District Court ordered the car be returned. This action follows an amicus brief filed by Kansas Justice Institute (KJI) and legislative action to remedy KHP’s seizure of an “innocent” man’s dream car.

KJI Litigation Director Sam MacRoberts said, “This is a major victory for property rights and against government overreach. Mr. Martinez didn’t do anything wrong, but the government spent years trying to destroy his car anyway.”

KJI is a free law firm that works to protect the constitutional rights of all Kansans. KJI’s MacRoberts authored an amicus brief in Mr. Martinez’s case and testified before the legislature to right this wrong. KJI is a part of Kansas Policy Institute, a limited-government think tank.

MacRoberts continued, “The government should not get to destroy an innocent person’s car. When the government knows someone is innocent, they shouldn’t use their power and resources to take someone’s property. Mr. Martinez is going to finally get his dream car back.”

The Court’s Order returning the 1959 Corvette cites HB 2595 which allows for classic cars to be registered in Kansas with a proper bill of sale documentation, and SB 267, an appropriations bill containing language to ensure that Mr. Martinez would get his Corvette back. SB 267 also included up to $20,000 to ensure the value of his vehicle is maintained.

The controversy stems from Mr. Martinez buying the 1959 Corvette in Indiana and seeking to get it registered in Kansas. During the registration process, KHP discovered that a VIN plate was altered during the restoration and seized his car as contraband, even though the government later acknowledged that Martinez was not at fault. KHP spent the ensuing five years trying to destroy a 63-year-old vehicle.

KJI’s arguments – that the United States and Kansas Constitutions do not permit the government to acknowledge a person’s innocence and still take their property – ultimately carried the day in the Legislature. The underlying case is State of Kansas, ex rel. Kansas Highway Patrol v. 1959 Chevrolet Corvette and is being argued by private counsel. The District Court requested the amicus brief that Kansas Justice Institute filed in August 2021.