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Martinez-Camacho v. State

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

August 2, 2019

Juan Manuel Martinez-Camacho
v.
State of Alabama

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

          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, 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 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.

         Analysis

         We first note that we will not address three of Camacho's arguments on appeal -- that forfeiture of the $52, 560 is an excessive fine in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution;[2] that the trial court erred by allowing Agent Autery to testify at trial despite the State's failure to disclose him as a witness as required under the trial court's pretrial order; and that the trial court erred by failing to dismiss the State's petition as a sanction for the State's failure to return Camacho's cellular telephones as required by an order entered by the trial court -- because he fails to make an adequate argument in his appellate brief.[3]See Rule 28(a)(10), Ala. R. Civ. P; Dykes v. Lane Trucking, Inc., 652 So.2d 248, 251 (Ala. 1994) ("[I]t is not the function of [an appellate court] to do a party's legal research or to make and address legal arguments for a party based on undelineated general propositions not supported by sufficient authority or argument."). Also, we do not consider the merits of Camacho's argument that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for a summary judgment because an appellate court, as a general rule, will not review the denial of a motion for a summary judgment after a judgment is entered on the merits. See Superskate, Inc. v. Nolen ex rel. Miller, 641 So.2d 231, 234 (Ala. 1994); see also Travelers Indem. Co. of Connecticut v. Miller, 86 So.3d 338, 341 (Ala. 2011). Camacho does not invoke any exception to the general rule, and he makes no attempt to demonstrate why the general rule would not apply in this case.

         Regarding Camacho's remaining two arguments on appeal, we agree with his argument that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that the $52, 560 was "money[] ... furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance in violation of any law of this state ...." Ala. Code 1975, § 20-2-93(a)(4).[4]Accordingly, we pretermit discussion of Camacho's argument that the search and seizure at issue were based on an illegal extension of a traffic stop. See Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, ____, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1615 (2015) ("An officer ... may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop. But ..., he may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual."); see also Hebert v. State, 180 So.3d 919, 923 (Ala.Crim.App.2014).

         Before addressing the merits of Camacho's argument that the State failed to establish its prima facie case, we note that the trial court's determination regarding Camacho's lack of credibility is amply supported by his testimony at trial and various misleading statements he made to Agent Autery that are reflected on the patrol-vehicle video, particularly based on disclosures made or facts discovered after the traffic stop had ended and Agent Autery had continued his detention of Camacho. Nevertheless, Camacho's lack of credibility is not positive evidence that the $52, 560 was "furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance in violation of any law of this state." § 20-2-93(a)(4). As to that question, this court stated in Wherry v. State ex rel. Brooks, 637 So.2d 1353 (Ala. Civ. App. 1994), that, "[i]n the federal case of United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428 (11th Cir. 1991), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals"

"defined probable cause as a '"reasonable ground for belief of guilt, supported by less than prima facie proof but more than mere suspicion" -- the same standard used to determine the legality of arrests, searches, and seizures in criminal law.' Id. at 1440 (emphasis added). Consequently, the federal government's burden of proof is greater than mere suspicion, but is less than prima facie proof. Id."

637 So.2d at 1355. However, this court continued:

"Our state appellate courts, however, have consistently held that the State must establish by the evidence a prima facie case for the forfeiture of property under § 20-2-93 and that the standard of proof to establish a prima facie case is reasonable satisfaction. Agee v. State ex rel. Galanos, 627 So.2d 960 (Ala. Civ. App. 1993); State ex rel. Valeska v. Keener, 606 So.2d 150 (Ala. Civ. App. 1992), cert. denied, 606 So.2d 150 (Ala. 1992); State v. Smith, 578 So.2d 1374 (Ala. Civ. App. 1991); Hayden v. State ex rel. Galanos, 513 So.2d 638 (Ala. Civ. App. 1987).
"... This burden [of proof] is greater than required in federal court."

637 So.2d at 1355; see also, e.g., Harris v. State, 821 So.2d 177, 185 (Ala. 2001).

         Our precedents are clear regarding the State's burden of proof under § 20-2-93(a)(4), and the requirement that the State must establish a relationship between the money at issue and some "exchange for a controlled substance in violation of any law of this state." For example, in Williams v. State, 150 So.3d 774, 779 (Ala. Civ. App. 2014), we concluded that the forfeiture judgment at issue in that case was against the great weight of the evidence, stating: "[A] review of the record indicates that there is no evidence connecting the $762 seized from Williams to a specific drug transaction. The law-enforcement officials who testified in this case could not link the money to any transaction involving illegal drugs." Likewise, this court noted in Williams v. State, 46 So.3d 3, 6 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010), that "the burden was not on Williams to prove where he obtained the money; the burden was on the State to prove that the money was used, or intended for use, in a transaction which would be a violation of the Alabama Controlled Substances Act."

         In the present case, Agent Autery testified that he had worked as a law-enforcement officer for approximately "15, 16" years and had been working "full-time criminal interdiction" since January 2009. Regarding the traffic stop at issue, Agent Autery described his initial suspicion about possible criminal activity as follows:

"Your Honor, during the initial approach of the vehicle when I introduced myself and was explaining the reason for the stop and asking for the driver's license from the driver, I noticed the passenger, which is ... Camacho, was answering the questions for ... [Hernandez]. And during my experience and training over the years, that's one of the things that we notice, that sometimes the lead guy in the load vehicle, whether it's a load of weapons, money, or narcotics, they try to control the conversation.
"So that's why I asked ... [Hernandez] back to my vehicle when I was taking enforcement actions. And then while I was taking enforcement actions with him, I noticed that back up ahead that ... Camacho was moving around in the truck, like looking around or whatever.
"So for safety reasons, I exited my vehicle, went up there and asked him for his identification and also where was he coming from, where was he going to. ... Camacho told me they'd been in Atlanta for two days. [On cross-examination, Agent Autery admitted that this was incorrect, Camacho said 'a few days,' and Agent Autery repeated 'a few days' on the patrol-vehicle video.] ... [Hernandez] said four days. So I got conflicting stories.
"And also my initial approach when I was asking for the driver's license, I could see ... Camacho breathing heavily. So when I see that, then also he's trying to takes what it seems to me he's answering for [Hernandez]. It's like he's trying to take over and control the conversation.
"So once I started identifying that, then I started getting the suspicions that there was criminal activity at hand, and that's why I pursued it further, and that's why we're here today."

         According to Camacho, he and Hernandez had driven a second truck (a Ford F-150 pickup) from Dallas to Atlanta, where Camacho purportedly sold the truck to another individual. The following colloquy with Agent Autery occurred regarding Camacho and Hernandez's purportedly driving two trucks from Dallas to Atlanta and Agent Autery's speculation from that purported itinerary and Suza's alert on the truck:

"Q. Based on your training and experience, is it uncommon for people who are smuggling drugs from Dallas to Atlanta to use multiple vehicles?
"A. No, it is not uncommon for that.
"Q. Can you explain that for the Court?
"A. Your Honor, during my years of experience in doing interdiction, criminal interdiction, through all different scenarios where more than one vehicle is used to smuggle contraband.
"One scenario that they have is what we call a decoy vehicle. That vehicle travels in front of what we call the load vehicle. The load vehicle is the vehicle that's containing all the contraband, whether it's narcotics, whether it's large sums of U.S. currency, whether it's weapons, whatever.
"But on certain occasions, they'll have a decoy vehicle where it rides and travels in front. They're hoping they draw the attention of law enforcement so they'll get stopped and then, therefore, the load vehicle goes by.
"Another instance of what happens in the smuggling world is there's two vehicles. One vehicle is your load vehicle. The second vehicle is just people riding in it to make sure the load of narcotics or whatever contraband they're hauling makes it from point A to point B.
"Q. And this story that Mr. Camacho was giving to you out there that night, Agent Autery, I'm correct, am I not, I mean, in his story he told you that they were going from Dallas -- well, back that up. I'm sorry.
"He told you he'd left California initially, but he left Dallas and had to go to Atlanta in order to get settlement ...

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