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Martinez-Camacho v. State

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

August 2, 2019

STATE of Alabama.

Page 879

          Appeal from Greene Circuit Court (CV-17-900029)

         Zane L. Willingham and David T. Shaw of Griess, Shaw & Willingham, P.C., Eutaw, for appellant.

          Steve Marshall, atty. gen., and Yvonne A.H., Saxon, asst. atty. gen., for appellee.

         EDWARDS, Judge.

         Juan Manuel Martinez-Camacho ("Camacho") appeals from a judgment entered by the Greene Circuit Court ("the trial court") ordering the forfeiture of $52,560 ("the $52,560") to the State of Alabama pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, § 20-2-93.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On March 13, 2017, at approximately 4:00 a.m., Agent Robbie Autery, who is a member of the 17th Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force, stopped a four-door 2015 Toyota Tundra pickup truck ("the truck") for speeding on Interstate 59 South in Greene County. The truck had California license plates and was owned by Camacho, who is a United States citizen and a resident of Ukiah, California. Camacho was sitting in the front-passenger seat of the truck. The driver of the truck was Christian Aguilar-Hernandez ("Hernandez"), who is a Mexican citizen and speaks limited English. The record includes a recording made by Agent Autery's patrol-vehicle video camera, which also incorporates an audio recording through a device apparently worn by Agent Autery. Deputy Donald Gant was also in Agent Autery's patrol vehicle when he made the traffic stop, as was Agent Autery's drug-detection dog, Suza.

         Agent Autery approached Camacho's truck on the passenger side. Agent Autery spoke to Camacho and to Hernandez, requested Hernandez's driver's license, and inquired about his driving history. Hernandez and Camacho indicated to Agent Autery that Hernandez had a previous ticket. Agent Autery informed Hernandez that, "as long as it had been awhile" since the previous ticket, Agent Autery would "just give [Hernandez] a warning." Agent Autery then requested that Hernandez accompany him to his patrol vehicle, where Agent Autery interviewed Hernandez after patting him down. Agent Autery knows limited Spanish, and Hernandez and Agent Autery communicated sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish. Hernandez told Agent Autery that he and Camacho had been in Atlanta for approximately "four days" and that they were driving to Dallas.

         After a few minutes of discussion with Hernandez, Agent Autery left his patrol vehicle and spoke to Camacho, who had remained in the truck. Agent Autery obtained Camacho's driver's license and interviewed him as to his and Hernandez's travel itinerary. Camacho told Agent Autery that he and Hernandez had been in Atlanta for a "few days" and were driving to Dallas. Agent Autery asked Camacho a series of questions regarding the presence of any weapons, drugs, money, or anything illegal in the truck. (A portion of each question was in Spanish.) Camacho replied "no" to each inquiry, and, when asked if there was anything illegal in the truck, he stated: "[N]othing illegal."

         Agent Autery returned to his patrol vehicle and radioed for background checks on Hernandez, Camacho, and the truck. While Agent Autery was waiting for the response to the background-check request, he asked a few additional questions to Hernandez. After approximately 17 minutes, the person who conducted the background checks informed Autery that,

Page 880

among other things, Camacho had been arrested in 2010 in Nebraska for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver but that the prosecution of the case based on that arrest had been "declined."

         Upon completion of the background-check discussion, Agent Autery returned Hernandez's license, issued him a written warning for speeding, and told him that Agent Autery was "through with the traffic stop." The traffic stop had taken approximately 30 minutes. Agent Autery then asked Hernandez about whether any weapons, drugs, or money were in the truck. Hernandez responded no to those inquiries. Agent Autery then stated that he was going to ask Camacho if he could search the truck, and he directed Hernandez to remain in the patrol vehicle.

         Agent Autery again left his patrol vehicle, stating, presumably to Deputy Gant, "[Camacho's] been popped before," and proceeded to the truck to speak to Camacho. Agent Autery returned Camacho's license and then asked him for permission to search the truck. After a brief discussion with Agent Autery, during which Camacho stated he had had problems from the delays and officers' actions during previous searches of his vehicle, Camacho refused to consent to a search. Agent Autery then instructed Camacho to exit the truck, informed him he was going to "run his [dog]" around the truck, and patted Camacho down. During the pat down, Camacho disclosed that he had approximately $1,500 in his pocket, and he showed the "wad" of money to Agent Autery.

         Agent Autery returned to his patrol vehicle to retrieve Suza. Agent Autery walked Suza around Camacho's truck, and, according to Agent Autery, the dog "alerted" on the driver's side door area of the truck.[1] Agent Autery returned Suza to the patrol vehicle and explained to Camacho that the dog had "alerted" and that, according to Agent Autery, he had probable cause to search the truck.

         Agent Autery proceeded to search the truck, beginning on the passenger side. After a few minutes, he proceeded to search the driver's side of the truck. While searching near the rear driver's side door, Agent Autery discovered a small, bound stack of cash that "fell out" from the rear, driver's side seat. He informed Camacho about the find, handed the stack of cash to Camacho, and inquired why he had not disclosed that he had the cash in the truck. Agent Autery then returned to the truck to continue his search using a camera he retrieved from his patrol vehicle. Agent Autery located additional small, bound stacks of cash within the rear driver's side seat. Agent Autery retrieved those stacks of cash with the assistance of Agent Ken Delaney, who had arrived at the scene.

         The $52,560 is the total cash retrieved from the truck and taken from Camacho's person. During the search of the truck, Agent Autery also seized three cellular telephones, two purportedly owned by Camacho and one purportedly owned by Hernandez. After completing his search, Agent Autery instructed Camacho to drive the truck and to follow him to a nearby highway exit, where they briefly stopped at a convenience store; Agent Delaney followed Camacho in his patrol vehicle. Thereafter, they proceeded to a police station, where Camacho and Hernandez were interrogated. No drugs, drug paraphernalia, or other contraband were recovered from the truck or from Hernandez's or Camacho's

Page 881

person, and no criminal charges were filed against Hernandez or Camacho. Camacho and Hernandez were released the next day, along with Camacho's truck.

         On April 4, 2017, the State filed a "Petition for Condemnation" in the trial court. The State's petition sought forfeiture of the $52,560, pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, § 20-2-93; the petition included no request for forfeiture of the three seized cellular telephones. Camacho filed an answer to the State's petition, and, on September 8, 2017, Camacho filed a motion for a summary judgment. After conducting a hearing on Camacho's motion for a summary judgment, the trial court entered an order denying the motion.

         On October 17, 2018, the trial court held an ore tenus proceeding on the State's forfeiture petition; Agent Autery and Camacho testified at the trial. At the conclusion of the evidence, Camacho made an oral motion for a judgment as a matter of law; Camacho argued that the $52,560 had been seized during an illegal search and that the State had failed to present sufficient evidence to support a finding that the $52,560 was proceeds from an illegal drug transaction. The trial court did not enter an order directly addressing Camacho's motion, and, on December 5, 2018, the trial court entered a judgment declaring that the $52,560 at issue was forfeited to the State. Thus, Camacho's motion for a judgment as a matter of law was denied. The December 2018 judgment states:

"This cause came before the Court for hearing on the pleadings and evidence presented ore tenus on the 17th day of October 2018. Upon consideration of same, the Court hereby finds that the Petition for Condemnation filed by the [State] in this case is due to be GRANTED because the [State] established by the evidence a prima facie case for the forfeiture of the money pursuant to [§ ] 20-2-93 of the Code of Alabama 1975. The standard of that prima facie proof is reasonable satisfaction. "[Camacho] failed to show that the money was not `derived from ... proceeds obtained directly, or indirectly, from violation of any law of this state concerning controlled substances.' Further, the court finds that [Camacho] testified falsely and that his testimony was unbelievable. Therefore, because [Camacho] failed to testify truthfully to a material fact, the testimony of [Camacho] is disregarded altogether. Costs are taxed as paid."

         Camacho appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, which transferred the appeal to this court, pursuant to § 12-2-7(6), Ala. Code 1975.

         Standard of Review

"On appellate review of a ruling from a forfeiture proceeding at which the evidence was presented ore tenus, the trial court's judgment is presumed to be correct unless the record shows it to be contrary to the great weight of the evidence." Ex parte McConathy, 911 So.2d 677, 681 (Ala. 2005).

"`"Under § 20-2-93 the State must establish a prima facie case for the seizure, condemnation, and forfeiture of the property. The standard of proof is reasonable satisfaction. The statute is penal in nature and, as such, should be strictly construed."' Holloway[ v. State ex rel. Whetstone], 772 So.2d [475,] 476 [(Ala.Civ.App. 2000)] (quoting State v. Smith, 578 So.2d 1374, 1376 (Ala.Civ.App. 1991))."

McConathy, 911 So.2d at 681-82.


         We first note that we will not address three of Camacho's arguments on appeal — ...

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