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Appellate panel dismisses case already pending in another trial court

May 31, 2017

A Marion Superior court erred in denying a man’s motion to dismiss a transfer action against him after police seized nearly $50,000 in suspected drug money from him because an active case related to the transfer was already pending in another court, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

After receiving verbal consent to visually inspect suspicious parcels at an Indianapolis shipping company, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers singled out a package addressed to Dustin Sorhaindo for further investigation. A K-9 officer gave a positive indication of a controlled substance in Sorhaindo’s package, and on the same day the state opened a criminal case in Marion Superior Court, Criminal Division, Courtroom 6, and applied for a search warrant.

The trial court granted the warrant, limiting the search to “controlled substances, records of drug trafficking, and proceeds of drug trafficking.” When officers subsequently opened the package, they found several folders with various papers and $47,940, though no controlled substances were found.

The state then filed a Notice and Motion to Transfer Seized Property to the United States, stating the money was “confiscated as proceeds of narcotics trafficking…and money laundering.” However, the state’s notice on the motion to transfer could not be delivered to the addresses listed on Sorhaindo’s package and was returned.

However, Sorhaindo learned of the transfer notice and retained counsel to file an objection to the turnover in September 2015. In December 2015, the state filed a Complaint for Forfeiture in Marion Superior Court, Civil Division, Courtroom 12, which the trial court granted in January 2016.

Sorhaindo then filed an answer to the complaint for forfeiture, a consolidated motion to correct error and objection to transfer and a motion to dismiss, requesting the trial court set aside the transfer order. Further, Sorhaindo claimed there were two similar motions to transfer in two difference courtrooms with actions involving the same parties, search, seized property and requested remedies.

Thus, Sorhaindo argued the case in Courtroom 12 should be dismissed, and the parties filed an Agreed Entry and Stipulation of Partial Dismissal to leave only the state’s motion for transfer under the case in Courtroom 12. The trial court, without holding an evidentiary hearing, granting the state’s motion to transfer under the Courtroom 12 case in July 2016.

On appeal, Sorhaindo argued the Marion Superior Court erred in granting the state’s motion and instead argued the Courtroom 12 case should be dismissed, with the Courtroom 6 case proceeding. The state, however, argued the Courtroom 6 case, listed as MC-22791, “could not be ‘utilized for a motion to transfer or an evidentiary hearing’” because “’MC does not designate a true active case.’”

But Judge Patricia Riley, writing for a unanimous panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals, said in a Wednesday opinion that during initial conversations with Sorhaindo’s counsel in September 2015, “At no point did the State refute the existence of the motion to transfer under MC-22791,” so the Courtroom 6 case was pending and active, Riley said. Further, the parties and subject matter in both cases were substantially similar, the judge said, so Courtroom 12 erred in denying Sorhaindo’s motion to dismiss.

The appellate panel set aside the turnover order issued in Courtroom 12 and remanded the case to Courtroom 6 for the commencement of turnover proceedings. The case is $47,940.00 U.S. Currency and Dustin Sorhaindo v. State of Indiana and Indiana State Police, 49A05-1608-MI-1814.

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