COA reverses forfeiture against drug offender

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The state must return funds seized from a man convicted of possession of marijuana after the Indiana Court of Appeals found no proof linking the cash to any drug crimes.

Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Ernstes was patrolling traffic on I-70 in Henry County when he saw a vehicle following too closely to the car in front of it. Ernstes received a “wanted/stolen hit on the license plate,” initiated a traffic stop and smelled the odor of marijuana as he approached the vehicle.

When Edgar Gonzalez, one of four occupants in the vehicle, opened the glove box to retrieve the rental agreement, Ernstes saw a marijuana dispensary container and marijuana residue throughout the vehicle. After back-up officers arrived, police pried open the center console and found what was believed to be heroin. Officers then discovered one of the passengers had cocaine in her purse and another had hid cocaine in her body.

The three other occupants pleaded guilty to felonies related to possession of a narcotic, while Gonzalez pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana as a Class B misdemeanor. The state filed a complaint for forfeiture, alleging $810 had been seized from Gonzalez and further alleging “said currency had been furnished or was intended to be furnished in exchange for a violation of a criminal statute … as provided in I.C. 34-24-1.”

The Henry Circuit Court entered judgment for forfeiture, so Gonzalez appealed in Edgar Ariel Gonzalez v. State of Indiana and Pace Team, 33A04-1612-MI-2807. In a Friday opinion, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the forfeiture, finding it was outside “the letter and spirit of the law,” a standard found in Hughley v. State, 15 N.E.3d 1000, 1005 (Ind. 2014).

Specifically, Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote, “the State did not produce any evidence that the cash found in Gonzalez’s pants pocket was in any way connected to his commission of that crime. Instead, the State focused upon the acts giving rise to the convictions of other persons, apparently under the theory that ‘the underlying offense’ connected to the currency was a conspiracy to deal narcotics.”

“There is no evidence, physical or testimonial, that Gonzalez ever procured, touched, or used the contraband found in the vehicle,” Bailey wrote Friday. “In short, there is a lack of evidence that Gonzalez was a co-conspirator with the other vehicle occupants or that his money facilitated their offenses.

“Without the establishment of a nexus between Gonzalez’s currency and an underlying offense, the civil forfeiture order is outside the ‘letter and spirit of the law,’’ Bailey continued. “Lacking the requisite proof, the forfeiture order must be reversed.”


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  1. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  2. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

  3. Been on social security sense sept 2011 2massive strokes open heart surgery and serious ovarian cancer and a blood clot in my lung all in 14 months. Got a letter in may saying that i didn't qualify and it was in form like i just applied ,called social security she said it don't make sense and you are still geting a check in june and i did ,now i get a check from my part D asking for payment for july because there will be no money for my membership, call my prescription coverage part D and confirmed no check will be there.went to social security they didn't want to answer whats going on just said i should of never been on it .no one knows where this letter came from was California im in virginia and been here sense my strokes and vcu filed for my disability i was in the hospital when they did it .It's like it was a error . My ,mothers social security was being handled in that office in California my sister was dealing with it and it had my social security number because she died last year and this letter came out of the same office and it came at the same time i got the letter for my mother benefits for death and they had the same date of being typed just one was on the mail Saturday and one on Monday. . I think it's a mistake and it should been fixed instead there just getting rid of me .i never got a formal letter saying when i was being tsken off.

  4. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

  5. Unlike the federal judge who refused to protect me, the Virginia State Bar gave me a hearing. After the hearing, the Virginia State Bar refused to discipline me. VSB said that attacking me with the court ADA coordinator had, " all the grace and charm of a drive-by shooting." One does wonder why the VSB was able to have a hearing and come to that conclusion, but the federal judge in Indiana slammed the door of the courthouse in my face.