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418.00 and Nathan Stevens v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

June 7, 2017



          Law Office of Kathryn L. Hudson, by: Kathryn L. Hudson, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Ashley Priest, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          WAYMOND M. BROWN, Judge

         Nathan Stevens appeals from the circuit court's forfeiture of $31, 418 found in his possession during a traffic stop. On appeal, Stevens argues that (1) appellee failed to make a causal connection between the money hidden in the vehicle and drug trafficking or sales, and that (2) Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-64-505[1] is ambiguous and contradictory and does not support the seizure of property where the underlying crime is a misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance. We affirm.

         On May 14, 2015, appellee filed an in-rem complaint pursuant to the provisions of Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-64-505, requesting forfeiture of money seized from appellant's vehicle on April 18, 2015. On July 28, 2015, appellant filed an answer and countercomplaint for writ of replevin and argued that, because he was convicted of a misdemeanor possession charge, the seizure was unlawful.[2] The circuit court held a forfeiture hearing on July 25, 2015.

         Sergeant Farris McClain of the Carlisle Police Department testified to going out to a local Exxon on the afternoon of April 18, 2015, to attempt to unlock a vehicle. A female, Brandi Scruggs, reported to him that she had locked her keys in the vehicle and led him to a gray 2014 Ford Escape. After several minutes of unsuccessfully attempting to unlock the door, two other officers-Dan Hogan and Robert Wakefield-arrived on the scene to assist McClain. When McClain asked Scruggs what business she rented the car from, she initially said Enterprise; however, Hogan's search of the license plate revealed that the vehicle belonged to a Hertz Rental out of California. McClain asked Scruggs who rented the vehicle and she mentioned "some girl named 'Carrie' she really didn't know"; "a friend of a friend." McClain reported that Scruggs was "acting a little bit nervous at the time." After "several more minutes[, ]" McClain was able to gain entry to the vehicle. He retrieved the vehicle's keys and the rental contract. The contract did not reflect Scruggs' name nor a "Carrie" but another individual named Candice Spain who was "out of Kentucky" and was not in nor around the vehicle.

         About the time of this discovery, a male individual walked up and identified himself as "David Carneal" with a date of birth of July 1, 1982. McClain was unable to get a return in the Arkansas Criminal Information Center terminal on that name and date of birth. From the stand, McClain identified appellant as "David Carneal." He then asked "Carneal" for his identification, which he was unable to provide. When asked their destination during what McClain described as "somewhat" of a field interview, with the two parties separated, Scruggs replied with Oklahoma while "Carneal" replied with Arizona. "Carneal" was acting "very nervous" and McClain could detect a "strong odor" of alcohol on his person. McClain then confronted "Carneal" on whether he had been drinking and "Carneal" admitted that he had earlier. When asked who rented the vehicle, "Carneal" identified "an old friend named Carrie"-"[s]omebody named Carrie"-though he could not give a last name. During their investigation, McClain "looked around, and [appellant] had left the scene"; had "walked away" and "just disappeared."[3]

         When McClain determined from the contract that the car was a Hertz rental and not an Enterprise rental, Hogan contacted Hertz, which advised them to seize the car since neither Scruggs nor "Carneal" was on the contract. McClain asked Scruggs and "Carneal" if they had anything illegal in the vehicle, to which they each replied no. Prior to the inventory search, and pursuant to the seizure requested by Hertz, Wakefield ran a K-9 sniff that alerted for narcotics. The officers then conducted a "full-on search." Numerous items were found therein; of pertinence, a small bag of "green-leafy substance suspected [and later confirmed] to be marijuana[, ]" a half-smoked marijuana cigarette, and money. Upon locating the money, Scruggs and "Carneal" were advised that they were under arrest for three misdemeanor charges; [4] "Carneal" admitted the marijuana belonged to him at that time. The car was inventoried and towed to an impound lot, and Scruggs and "Carneal" were taken to the police department, after which an "extended" search was conducted on the vehicle at the impound lot. Regarding the money found during that search, McClain testified as follows:

And during this time we found a large quantity of money. It was in three or four different places. In the back cargo area, there was [sic] storage pockets back there in both pockets. While I'm looking through there, there was some glue. I can't remember exactly. I think it was in the back seat. But while we were looking and inspecting the vehicle at that time, I see glue around the center console, the gearshift. At that point we was [sic] able to gain entry, and there was another large amount of marijuana there. I mean-I'm sorry-a large amount of money. No other marijuana was found in the vehicle. The money is just what I found prior to being impounded. The money was found underneath. You just pull this cover up, and I believe the glove compartment contained a large quantity of money. We took it to First State Bank, and they determined it was $31, 418 in cash.

         After "about a two hour period[, ]" "Carneal" finally revealed his true identity as Nathan Stevens and gave his correct date of birth, which McClain confirmed. McClain never told Stevens that he had found the money, and Stevens "never said anything about, 'I've got some money in my car.'" Stevens never spoke of the large amount of money, only the money in his wallet. A confiscation report was prepared and forwarded to the prosecutor's office. McClain admitted that his seizures "typically . . . involved felony amount [sic] of drugs along with some cash"; however, the "large amount in these various places concealed with their demeanor led [him] to believe the money was used for drugs." This was in addition to Stevens's failure to even tell him that the money was in the vehicle. He testified that he believed the money was used for drug trafficking, buying or selling drugs, and that was why he seized it.

         Wakefield testified to assisting McClain with the locked-car situation involving Scruggs and Stevens.[5] He stated that Scruggs was acting nervous at the time, and "didn't act like she just had a locked vehicle"; she acted like "something further was going on." He stated that Stevens went through two different names before correctly identifying himself.[6] Stevens denied any knowledge of any of the money outside of the "roughly" $1, 500 in his wallet.

         Corporal Vic Coleman, of the Arkansas State Police's Interstate Criminal Patrol Unit, testified that his unit does criminal interdiction, which includes drug interdiction. Noting that he had looked at the facts of this particular case, read the report, and viewed the video, Coleman was permitted to testify as an expert without objection. He testified that his expertise was in land-based trafficking, noting that the "great majority of narcotics that travel into the United States cross the Mexican border, the southwest quarter from Mexico to the United States through California, Texas, Arizona, Mexico." He stated that drugs traditionally moved east along I-40 going to major cities in the east and money traditionally is travelling westbound "back to the border back into Mexico." He testified that in a lot of these drug cases, the parties will have conflicting stories, like when Scruggs stated that she and Stevens were heading to Oklahoma while Stevens stated that they were headed to Arizona.

         Coleman had consistently seen in his history, a third-party rental, as in this case where neither Scruggs nor Stevens knew who rented the vehicle and "didn't know each other very well, apparently." Coleman stated that this was because "they don't want to lose their personal vehicle if it is seized."[7] However, he admitted that just being in a rental car "would not mean anything to [him]." Coleman stated that the "guy who owns the money, he doesn't want to be where the money's at, so he rents a vehicle and gives a third party the money and the vehicle and says, 'Go to point A.'"

         What "jumped out at [Coleman]" were the facts that Stevens and Scruggs were headed to Arizona because it is a "source area for narcotics" as recognized by the DEA, the individuals were nervous, they were deceptive, and neither party claimed the money. The fact that very little drugs were found did not "mean anything to [Coleman] one way or another" because you traditionally "don't see a lot of drugs in a vehicle" and it was actually "uncommon to find drugs in the vehicle at all" because "they don't want the drugs and the money in the same place." But he admitted that he had had cases in which there were drugs and money. An individual's lack of criminal history could go both ways, having no criminal history, or a lot of history. Coleman found it to be suspect that the money was found in different locations. He opined that "$30, 000 is a lot of money for anybody to have on you" and noted that he would not seize $5, 000 or $10, 000 "[w]ithout other indicators." His opinion was that the money in this case was "destined to be used in exchange for drugs."

         During appellant's counsel's cross-examination, she stated that she was "confused on that as to what [Coleman's] role here is[, ]" to which the circuit court responded "[a]s an expert witness. That was it. He didn't say he was involved in any of it or anything else. And you said it was okay for him to be a witness." After explaining her belief that Coleman had some role in the case, to which the circuit ...

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