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Asset forfeiture dispute divides appeals panel

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An order transferring to the federal government money seized from a criminal defendant was deemed proper by the Indiana Court of Appeals Thursday, though a dissenting judge said the defendant didn’t even know the order had been issued until nearly two years later.

The majority reversed a Clark Circuit Court ruling that set aside an order to transfer to the Drug Enforcement Administration $8,765 seized in a drugs and weapons prosecution. The order was signed by the judge in Clark Division One Circuit Court though the motion was filed in Division Three.

"The Division One Circuit Court subsequently granted Downey’s motion and issued an order instructing the State to release the funds to Downey or his designee. The Division One Circuit Court issued this order over the State’s objection that the Division One Circuit Court did not have the authority to set aside the order of a different court of equal jurisdiction," Judge Cale Bradford wrote in the majority opinion joined by Judge Patricia Riley.

“In light of the long-standing rule that one court cannot control the orders or process of any other court of equal jurisdiction, we conclude that the Division One Circuit Court abused its discretion in setting aside the order,” Bradford wrote in State of Indiana v. Chase R. Downey, 10A01-1310-CR-432.

The majority also accepted the state’s alternative argument that Downey’s request for return of the money was moot because the state has transferred it to the feds. “While it may seem bothersome that the State may divest itself of the funds by transferring them to someone other than the defendant and now argue that the issue is moot, we must recognize that the federal government is a separate governmental entity and is not a party to this action. As such, we conclude that Downey’s request for the funds is moot as the State cannot produce the funds that it does not possess,” Bradford wrote.

Judge Margret Robb picked apart all of the majority’s holdings and pointed out that while Downey was charged in one court, the motion and proposed order were assigned to a different court and signed by a judge in a third court.
    
At the time Downey was charged in 2011, Clark County had one Circuit Court and three Superior courts. The General Assembly reorganized the system into four Circuit courts in 2012.

“Division One granted Downey’s motion for release of property and also granted his subsequent motion to compel release of property. At that time, neither Downey nor Division One had any knowledge of the transfer order that had been issued over a year before. In April of 2013, Downey filed a motion for rule to show cause because the State had not complied with Division One’s orders regarding the funds. It was not until shortly before a hearing on that motion in June of 2013 that Downey’s defense counsel, with the aid of the deputy prosecuting attorney, was able to track down the transfer order and learn that the funds had been transferred to the federal government pursuant to an order issued nearly two years earlier,” Robb wrote.

“I do not believe Division One abused its discretion in setting aside the order of Division Three,” she wrote. “If one court cannot control the processes of any other court of equal jurisdiction, then neither the (former) Superior Three court nor the (former) Superior One judge should have been issuing orders affecting a Circuit Court case.

“Likewise,” she wrote, “I do not agree with the majority that Downey’s request is moot. The money still exists even if it is no longer in the State’s immediate possession. That the State may need to recover it from the federal government or take other action to provide the relief the court ordered does not make this issue moot.”
 

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  • Looking forward to new legislation
    I am looking forward to Congress considering the bill submitted by Rand Paul that would restrict these asset forfeitures.

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