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Wilson v. State

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

October 25, 2019

Mary Alice Wilson
v.
State of Alabama

          Appeal from Shelby Circuit Court (CV-16-900459)

          EDWARDS, JUDGE.

         Mary Alice Wilson, a Colorado resident, appeals from a judgment entered by the Shelby Circuit Court ("the trial court") ordering the forfeiture of $19, 410 ("the $19, 410") to the State of Alabama pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, § 20-2-93.

         Christopher Bruton, a resident of Shelby County, originally met Wilson on a cruise in 2013. They smoked marijuana together on the cruise, and, thereafter, Bruton began purchasing marijuana from Wilson in quantities of one-half pound or one pound per purchase; occasionally, Bruton also purchased alprazolam, i.e., Xanax, from Wilson.[1] To obtain the drugs, Bruton would contact Wilson by text message and request marijuana ("sometimes specify[ing] the amount and 'flavor' ('Gorilla Glue,' 'Bruce Banner,' 'Luke Skywalker,' etc.)") or Xanax. Wilson would respond by text message, and, within a few days, she would ship the drugs to Bruton and would provide him with a tracking number for the shipment. Wilson would also indicate the cost for the drugs, if she and Bruton had not already agreed to the specific cost. After Bruton received the shipment, he would make a deposit into a bank account Wilson had at Wells Fargo, as directed by Wilson. Bruton made the deposits at a Wells Fargo branch in Pelham.

         Wilson's first shipment of marijuana to Bruton was in late August 2013. Thereafter, Bruton placed orders and received shipments of marijuana or Xanax from Wilson every two or three months, on average, until May 2016. On May 17, 2016, a Birmingham police officer obtained a search warrant for a package from Wilson that was intended for Bruton. The warrant was issued based on a positive indication from a narcotics-detection dog that had occurred while the package was being processed at a local Federal Express facility; the ensuing search revealed that the package contained 1.14 pounds of marijuana in a vacuum-sealed bag. The package was thereafter delivered to Bruton at his Shelby County address. Officers from the Shelby County Drug Enforcement Task Force ("the task force") were present when the package was delivered and confronted Bruton after he accepted delivery. Bruton thereafter agreed to cooperate with the task force's investigation of Wilson, including consenting to a review of information contained on Bruton's cellular telephone. We note that Bruton made no payment to Wilson for the May 2016 shipment of marijuana, although a text message from Wilson to Bruton on October 28, 2013, stated that she had "a policy" of charging only half the agreed upon price if she sent a package that "gets lost or taken."

         Based on information obtained during the task force's investigation into Wilson and Bruton's relationship, on May 18, 2016, the task force seized $35, 746.70 ("the $35, 746.70") from four accounts at Wells Fargo that belonged to Wilson; the $35, 746.70 was seized through a Shelby County branch of Wells Fargo. The four accounts are hereinafter identified by the last four digits of the respective Wells Fargo account numbers, namely 3990, 6995, 5935, and 6603. We note that all of Bruton's deposits were made into Wilson's Wells Fargo account number 6603 ("the 6603 account"), which, on May 18, 2016, had a balance of $27, 709.23 ("the $27, 709.23") and was part of the $35, 746.70.

         On June 10, 2016, the State filed a complaint in the trial court seeking forfeiture of the $35, 746.70 pursuant to § 20-2-93. In addition to the $35, 746.70, Wilson was named as a defendant. Wilson filed an answer to the State's complaint. Thereafter, she filed a motion for a summary judgment arguing that the State's claims to the portions of the $35, 746.70 seized from her Wells Fargo account numbers 3990, 6995, and 5935 were due to be denied because the State had no evidence indicating that the currency from those accounts was associated with any illegal drug transaction. Accordingly, Wilson contended, the currency seized from those three accounts was due to be returned to her.

         Regarding the $27, 709.23 seized from the 6603 account, the text messages retrieved from Bruton's cellular telephone reflect that, between August 2013 and March 2016, Bruton made 15 deposits for the purchase of marijuana or Xanax into that account; those deposits totaled $30, 410. However, according to an affidavit filed by Wilson in support of her motion for a summary judgment, when the State seized the $27, 709.23 from the 6603 account, most of the $27, 709.23 was from deposits that were not related to any illegal drug transaction. Wilson argued that the State's evidence could link only $4, 260 of the $27, 709.23 to any specific illegal drug transaction - the payments for transactions between her and Bruton in January 2016, February 2016, and March 2016 -- and she contended that the remaining $23, 449.23 from the 6603 account should be returned to her. Wilson argued, in the alternative, that the two-year statute of limitations in Ala. Code 1975, § 6-2-38 (JL) precluded the State from retaining any currency from the 6603 account that was attributable to an illegal drug transaction that had occurred more than two years before the State filed its forfeiture complaint; the currency deposited by Bruton into the 6603 account for transactions during the two years before the State filed its complaint totaled $19, 410.

         The State filed a response to Wilson's motion for a summary judgment, and, after a hearing on that motion, the trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of Wilson and against the State regarding the portions of the $35, 746.70 seized from Wilson's Wells Fargo account numbers 3990, 6995, and 5935. Regarding the $27, 709.23 seized from the 6603 account, however, the trial court concluded that a disputed issue of material fact precluded the entry of a summary judgment against the State.

         In addition to the forfeiture action, the State filed criminal charges against Wilson for her attempted sale and delivery of marijuana to Bruton in May 2016. Apparently, no charges were filed against Bruton. On November 2, 2016, Wilson pleaded guilty in the criminal proceeding to conspiring to distribute a controlled substance in violation of Ala. Code 1975, § 13A-12-204.

         On November 19, 2018, the trial court held an ore tenus proceeding in the forfeiture action. The only witness who testified at the trial was Bruton. Wilson did not attend the trial, although her counsel was present. In addition to Bruton's testimony, the State and Wilson stipulated to the admission into evidence of all the exhibits offered as part of the summary-judgment proceeding (including the materials attached to a motion to reconsider that Wilson had filed), which included an affidavit from Wilson, a copy of her guilty plea from the criminal proceeding, documents from the task force's investigation, bank-account statements, and a printout of the text messages between Bruton and Wilson. At trial, the State argued that Bruton had deposited more than the $27, 709.23 into the 6603 account for illegal drug purchases from Wilson and that the State was entitled to all of the $27, 709.23.

         On December 6, 2018, the trial court entered a judgment declaring that the $27, 709.23 the State seized from the 6603 account was forfeited to the task force. See Ala. Code 1975, § 20-2-93 (e) (2) . In the December 2018 judgment, the trial court determined that the $27, 709.23 was "proceeds knowingly commingled with proceeds used to facilitate violation of the criminal controlled substance laws for the State of Alabama and/or [was] proceeds knowingly commingled with proceeds that were the fruits of the illegal sale of controlled substances in the State of Alabama." The trial court further stated that it found no Alabama precedent specifically addressing the commingling issue, and it

"adopt[ed] the United States Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals' analysis in U.S. v. One Single Family Residence Located at 15603 85th Ave. North, Lake Park, Palm Beach County, Florida, 933 F.2d 976, 981-982 (11th Cir. 1991), in distinguishing individuals who are 'innocent owners' from those who are 'wrongdoers' who knowingly mix illicit proceeds with proceeds attributable to illegal drug transactions. Thereby, this Court finds that . . . Wilson should not prevail in keeping any amount of the funds from ... [the] 6603 [account] because she is clearly a 'wrongdoer' who knowingly engaged in illegal drug activity and who knowingly directed . . . Bruton to deposit funds for illegal drugs into ... [the] 6603 [account]."

         We note that in United States v. One Single Family Residence Located at 15603 85th Avenue North, Lake Park, Palm Beach County, Florida, 933 F.2d 976, 978 (11th Cir. 1991), the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ("the Court of Appeals") held that Gary Spears, who had knowingly commingled his legitimate funds with the funds of his brother, Curtis Spears, who had no legitimate source of income and was a drug smuggler, was not an "innocent owner" and, thus, that his funds were subject to forfeiture under 21 U.S.C. § 881(a) (6) . Gary and Curtis had commingled their funds to purchase real property, as tenants in common, and to construct a house on that property. In addressing Gary's appeal, the Court of Appeals stated that," [a]s to a wrongdoer, any amount of the invested proceeds traceable to drug activities forfeits the entire property. We have never held that as to a wrongdoer only the funds traceable to illegal activities may be forfeited." 933 F.2d at 981. The Court of Appeals held that, "when a claimant to a forfeiture action has actual knowledge, at any time prior to the initiation of the forfeiture proceeding, that claimant's legitimate funds are commingled with drug proceeds, traceable in accord with the forfeiture statute, the legitimate funds are subject to forfeiture." Id. at 982.

         Wilson filed a postjudgment motion on January 3, 2019. On February 11, 2019, the trial court entered an order vacating the December 2018 judgment and granting Wilson relief regarding the return of $8, 299.23 of the $27, 709.23 at issue. The trial court concluded, however, that the $19, 410 remaining ($27, 709.23 - $8, 299.23 = $19, 410) was forfeited to the task force. After discussing two cases that Wilson had cited in support of her postjudgment motion, Blackwell v. State ex rel. Snyder, 266 So.3d 76 (Ala. Civ. App. 2018), and Ex parte McConathy, 911 So.2d 677 (Ala. 2005), the February 2019 order states, in pertinent part:

"3. The only account that is at issue in this case is the 6603 account. While the Court finds that certain monies in the 6603 account were traceable to specific drug transactions, the court also finds that other monies in the account were not traceable to specific drug transactions .... Moreover, the State conceded that the monies in the 6603 account that were not linked to a drug transaction with ... Bruton[] were legitimately earned or deposited. What the court cannot determine is what money was withdrawn from account ... 6603 during the two (2) year time period at issue, the 'clean money' from the 'dirty money.'

         "4. The court, therefore, must account for which funds to return to [Wilson] and which funds to condemn. From the date of the seizure (May 2016), going back for a period of two (2) years, there were $19, 410.00 in deposit[s] traceable to specific drug transactions. The court has not found a statute or case law addressing the statue of limitations that applies to this fact situation. The court, in accepting [Wilson's] argument that the statute of limitations should be two (2) years, finds that portion of the account linked to drug transactions within two (2) years of the seizure is the only portion that should be condemned to the State.

"5. The amount of $19, 410.00 from Wells Fargo [a]ccount number ... 6603, which the court finds is linked to various drug transactions in violation [of] ... § 20-2-93, is hereby forfeited and condemned. (See State's Exhibit 1 and [Wilson's] Exhibit 8). The remaining $8, 299.23 from the said 6603 account shall be returned to ... Wilson."

         State's exhibit 1 and Wilson's exhibit 8, referenced in the February 2019 order, are copies of the same document, namely page eight of an "Incident/Investigation Report" prepared by a task-force officer. The report includes a summary of the results of a forensic examination of Bruton's cellular telephone and states, in pertinent part, that, "according to the text messages, as well as information provided by Bruton, between August 2013 and May 2016, Bruton deposited in excess of $30, 410 into ... [the 6603] account as payment for marijuana and Xanax." The report then contains entries beginning on August 22, 2013, and ending on May 18, 2016, for Bruton's various payments to Wilson for the purchase of marijuana or Xanax, all but three of which include specific dollar entries for payment.[2] Based on the report entries, Bruton paid Wilson $19, 410, through deposits into the 6603 account, for illegal drug transactions during the two years before the State filed the forfeiture complaint.

         Wilson filed a timely notice of appeal to this court from the February 2019 order. The State did not file a cross-appeal; thus, the State has abandoned any ...


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