Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Arkansas allowed to take $20,000 from innocent man on a technicality

Posted By on Wed, May 11, 2016 at 3:44 PM

click to enlarge JUDGE CHRIS WILLIAMS: Wouldn't go along with state's willingness to give stopped motorist his money back.
  • JUDGE CHRIS WILLIAMS: Wouldn't go along with state's willingness to give stopped motorist his money back.
The Institute for Justice has taken note of the case of Guillermo Espinoza, stopped by the State Police in July 2013 in Hot Spring County. A drug dog alerted to a computer bag in which $19,894 was found and seized as contraband.

He was never charged with a crime and the state even dropped its effort to seize the money. But a trial judge wouldn't go along. And the Arkansas Court of Appeals last week refused the appeal to return the cash.

Prosecutors in Hot Spring County never charged Espinoza with a crime, but filed a complaint to forfeit the cash. Espinoza objected to what he called an unlawful search and also presented evidence of paychecks and tax returns to prove the money was lawful earnings, not drug money.

In May 2014, the prosecutors asked to dismiss the forfeiture case, saying the state had "decided not to pursue the forfeiture of the currency." But Judge Chris Williams rejected the motion and ordered a forfeiture in September 2014. A motion for reconsideration was dismissed in a one-sentence order.

Espinoza lost again at the Court of Appeals last week, on what the Institute's writer called a technicality.

Espinoza argued that forfeiture is “quasi-criminal,” and would be subject to the state’s rules of criminal procedure, which grant up to 30 days to file post-trial motions.

But the appellate court instead ruled that civil forfeiture cases must follow the state’s civil procedure rules, which only allow 10 days after judgment to file motions “to vacate, alter, or amend the judgment.” In short, he was too late in filing. Since Espinoza’s motion was “untimely,” the Court of Appeals dismissed his appeal.

“Although I agree that our court is proceduraly barred from hearing this appeal,” Judge Waymond Brown wrote in a brief, engaged concurrence, “I cannot see why the trial judge would decide to follow through with the forfeiture of Mr. Espinoza’s $19,894, when the charging agency moved to dismiss without prejudice believing it lacked the evidence to confiscate the money.”

“Unsubstantiated suspicions are not just cause for circumventing established judicial practices,” he added.
Forfeiture cases are big money makers in Arkansas. Law officers siezed more than $80 million and more than 9,500 vehicles in Arkansas between 2000 and 2014, the Institute reported.

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