One of the lesser-known effects of a drug conviction is that not only can the government strip a defendant of freedom, they can also initiate civil proceedings resulting in major personal assets – including one's home, vehicles and savings – transferred to the government. It's called a civil forfeiture, and if a defendant is convicted on drug charges, it can be difficult to fight.
Our defense attorneys in Birmingham know it's not only high-level drug offenders who are affected. We note one recent case where a defendant successfully overturned a summary judgment in favor of the state on this issue. However, he still hasn't won. He must now convince a jury his assets weren't connected to his alleged drug trade.
In Hughley v. State, defendant was arrested in Indiana on charges of dealing cocaine and other related offenses. The arrest happened after police, seeking a suspect who had led them on chase and crashed, were led to defendant's residence. They were given permission to search. Defendant was not found, but officers found residual cocaine. This led securing a warrant, which led to the discovery of more cocaine. When defendant was arrested, he had nearly $4,000 in cash in his front pocket.
Defendant was later convicted of dealing cocaine and other charges. Soon after, the state filed civil proceedings seeking forfeiture of his cash and his car, asserting both were the result of drug proceeds and were used to facilitate the illegal drug trade.
21 U.S.C. 853 holds that any property that is either purchased with drug money or has helped with the furtherance of certain crimes (usually drug-related), is subject to government seizure with the appropriate court order. Convictions aren't always necessary for the state to initiate such proceedings, but they usually won't do so without one.
In Hughley, the state moved for summary judgment to seize defendant's assets. Defendant argued against it, asserting cash seized during arrest was not derived from drug sales and was never used or intended for anything but legal purposes. Likewise, he asserted his vehicle was never used to transport controlled substances and wasn't purchased with funds derived from unlawful activity.
The trial court nonetheless granted summary judgment to the state, and that decision was affirmed by the appellate court. However, the Indiana Court of Appeals later reversed.
In Indiana, the burden of proof for the movant requesting summary judgment is higher than the federal standard, with the state erring on the side of allowing marginal cases to continue on merits, rather than risk dismissing claims that may be meritorious.
Because defendant categorically denied the state's claims, he raised sufficient evidence (though the high court noted it was minimal) to establish a factual issue best resolved by a jury, rather than summary judgment.
The court noted the state's evidence is compelling, but it's not conclusive. By contrast, defendant's affidavit is silent in offering alternative explanations, aside from his purported drug dealing, for his carrying $4,000 in cash in $20 denominations. The court noted absent any corroboration, his credibility is “dubious.”
However, the court held it could not overlook a factual dispute just because one side was unlikely to win at trial. Therefore, the convicted drug dealer will have his day in court. On the other hand, if he'd never been convicted, he likely would have avoided this scenario altogether.
Our drug defense lawyers in Birmingham are dedicated to helping protect our client's rights, their interests and their freedom.
Hughley v. State , Sept. 9, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court
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