ILNews

COA reversal of truck forfeiture allows movie fan to drive off into the sunset

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In a reversal of a trial court’s ruling, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that a man who pleaded guilty to selling pirated movies should not have had his truck taken by the state because violating copyright is not the same as stealing goods.

Michael Curtis contended the trial court abused its discretion by denying his Indiana Trial Rule 60(B) motion for relief from judgment following the forfeiture of his truck. The COA reversed and remanded with instructions after finding Curtis had “established extraordinary circumstances” justifying relief in Michael L. Curtis v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1203-MI-271. 

In December 2009, the state charged Michael Curtis with four counts of Class D felony fraud for selling pirated movies from his truck. It later filed a compliant for forfeiture of Curtis’ truck under I.C. 34-24-1-1(a)(1)(B) (2009) which allows the seizure of vehicles if they are used to transport any stolen property worth $100 or more.

Curtis pleaded guilty in February 2011 to one count of fraud.

The state then filed a motion of summary judgment in the forfeiture action. The trial court granted the state’s motion and ordered the truck taken.

Subsequently, Curtis filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment Pursuant to Trial Rule 60(B)(1), (3), or (8). In the motion, Curtis again stated his attorney did not notify him of the forfeiture order. He also challenged the forfeiture on the grounds that the pirated movies did not constitute stolen property, specifically citing  Dowling v. United States, 473 U.S. 207, 105 S. Ct. 3127, 87 L Ed. 2d 152 (1985).

The trial court denied the motion without a hearing. Curtis appealed, contending the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion for relief from judgment.

The COA agreed with Curtis. It found, as Dowling held, that the property rights of a copyright holder are different than the same rights of an owner of goods, wares or merchandise. It also pointed to I.C. 34-24-1-1(a)(1)(B) which, the court held, clearly allows forfeiture in cases of theft or conversion but says nothing about copyright infringement or even fraud.

Since the forfeiture of the truck was not authorized by the statute, the COA concluded that Curtis had established extraordinary circumstances justifying relief.

 

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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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