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Arkansas Court of Appeals Upholds Civil Forfeiture Ruling

On May 4, 2016, the Arkansas Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s order for the civil forfeiture of nearly $20,000 seized from Guillermo Espinoza during a July 2013 traffic stop. Espinoza was never charged with a crime and prosecutors eventually filed a motion to dismiss the case. In an unusual decision, the trial court rejected that motion.

Following a September 2014 hearing, the court ordered Espinoza to forfeit his cash. A month later he filed a motion for reconsideration. In a one-sentence order, Circuit Judge Chris Williams held the motion was “without merit.” Espinoza appealed.

The Court of Appeals decided against Espinoza based on a technicality. His appeal was filed under criminal procedure rules, but the appellate court held the case must follow the state’s rules for civil procedure. His appeal was therefore deemed “untimely.”

Appellate Judge Waymond Brown wrote in a concurring opinion, “Although I agree that our court is 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 the evidence to confiscate the money.” See: Nineteen Thousand Eight Hundred Ninety-Four Dollars ($19,894.00) in American Currency and Guillermo Garcia Espinoza v. State of Arkansas, 2016 Ark. App. 244, 491 S.W.3d 486 (Ark. Ct. App. 2016), rehearing denied.

A recent report by the Institute for Justice found that nearly $81 million in currency and 9,500 cars were seized in Arkansas through civil forfeiture between 2000 and 2014.

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