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COA upholds seizure of pot dealer’s cash, but not truck

July 11, 2019

The Rush County prosecutor will be allowed to keep $22,907 in cash seized from a local marijuana dealer’s home safe that also contained his weed stash, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, but the state will have to return some seized property and also may have to return the man’s truck.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruling in Robert R. Coulter, III and Kerri E. Coulter v. Philip J. Caviness, Rush County Prosecutor, on behalf of State of Indiana, 18A-MI-957, came after Robert Coulter III drove his truck to a Rushville bank in October 2016 and exchanged $9,000 in $20 bills for $100 bills. A bank employee contacted Rushville police, and Detective Alex Shaver came to the bank, where he detected the odor of raw marijuana on the bills. Shaver also witnessed video of Coulter arriving at the bank in his Chevrolet pickup.

The next day, Shaver retrieved the Coulters’ trash and found evidence of marijuana cultivation, leading to the issuance of a search warrant for their home. Officers executed the warrant the same day. Asked if there was anything illegal in the home, Coulter told police, “Everything is in the safe” in the first-floor master bedroom closet.

There, police found 3½ pounds of marijuana, digital scales, marijuana seeds and other paraphernalia, as well as the cash, a Dell laptop computer and a Nikon camera. Elsewhere in the house, police found a Toshiba laptop and a Ruger rifle. In the garage, police found evidence of a harvested marijuana growing operation, so all of this property was seized as part of the criminal investigation.

Coulter was interviewed by Shaver and admitted that “he had been growing marijuana for eighteen years and that he had recently harvested a crop that he had grown in an open field close to his home. Coulter also admitted that he went to Indianapolis once every two weeks to purchase one-to-two pounds of marijuana. Coulter had approximately 130 customers and estimated that he generated an income of $800 per week dealing marijuana,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

Coulter was charged with a Level 5 felony count of racketeering, Level 6 felony counts of dealing marijuana and maintaining a common nuisance, and Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Eleven days later, Coulter pleaded guilty to the dealing count in exchange for a two-year suspended sentence.

Less than a month later, Rush County Prosecutor Philip J. Caviness filed a civil forfeiture action claiming all of the property seized in the investigation was the product of drug dealing activity, and after a hearing, the Rush Superior Court granted Caviness’ motion for summary judgment.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed that decision in part Thursday, upholding the trial court as it pertained to property seized from the safe that also contained the marijuana. But the appellate panel reversed and ordered judgment in favor of Coulter regarding the Toshiba laptop and the rifle. The panel also reversed and remanded to the trial court the order as it pertained to Coulter’s truck.

“Because Caviness did not pursue any theory of group drug dealing activity in his summary judgment pleadings, we conclude that the trial court erred when it granted summary judgment to Caviness on the Toshiba laptop and the rifle…,” Riley wrote for the panel.

The panel also concluded that the video of Coulter arriving at the bank, by itself, was not sufficient to support summary judgment for the forfeiture of his truck, and the trial court erred in so finding.

“As Coulter’s act of driving his truck to exchange the currency was the only use of the truck supported by the evidence, we conclude that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding whether Coulter acquired or maintained control of his truck through his drug dealing activity and that this issue precluded summary judgment as to Coulter’s truck,” the panel held. “Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment as to the truck and remand for further proceedings on that property.”


 

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