Last Wednesday, the Arkansas Court of Appeals upheld the civil forfeiture of nearly $20,000 that was taken from a man during a traffic stop.
Guillermo Espinoza was driving to Texas with his girlfriend in July of 2013 when he was pulled over by the Arkansas State Police. Despite finding no contraband, the police seized the $19,894 in cash. He was not charged with a crime and has since argued that “the stop, search, and seizure by law enforcement was unreasonable, unlawful, and unconstitutional.”
Espinoza also provided paychecks and tax records showing the cash wasn’t drug money and was earned lawfully. “The state should not be permitted to profit from its own wrongdoing,” his lawyer argued in a subsequent court proceeding.
After going through a series of appeals, the Court of Appeals ultimately upheld the forfeiture based on a technicality. This decision was especially strange, given that the prosecutor had previously attempted to end prosecution of the action — but the trial court wouldn’t let him.
The Institute for Justice’s Nick Sibilla writes:
Espinoza argued that forfeiture is “quasi-criminal,” and would be subject to the state’s rules of criminal procedure, which grant up to 30 days to file post-trial motions.
But the appellate court instead ruled that civil forfeiture cases must follow the state’s civil procedure rules, which only allow 10 days after judgment to file motions “to vacate, alter, or amend the judgment.” In short, he was too late in filing. Since Espinoza’s motion was “untimely,” the Court of Appeals dismissed his appeal.
In a dissenting opinion written by Judge Waymond Brown, he stated: “Although I agree that our court in procedurally barred from hearing this appeal, I cannot see why the trial judge would decide to follow through with the forfeiture of Mr. Espinoza’s $19,894, when the charging agency moved to dismiss without prejudice believing it lacked evidence to confiscate the money.”
According to the Institute for Justice, Arkansas police have seized over $80 million in cash and nearly 10,000 vehicles between 2000 and 2014. Last year, a civil asset forfeiture reform bill narrowly failed to make it out of Senate Judiciary.