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State v. Worley

Superior Court of Delaware

January 11, 2019

STATE OF DELAWARE,
v.
CAMI WORLEY Defendant.

         Upon Petition for Return of Property DENIED

          Cami Worley, Pro Se

          Danielle Brennan, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Wilmington, Delaware for the State of Delaware

          KATHARINE L. MAYER COMMISSIONER.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On October 11, 2017, Cami Worley ("Petitioner"), filed a Petition for Return of Property pursuant to 16 Del. C. §4784(j) and Superior Court Civil Rule 71.3, seeking the return of $2, 500.00 cash. The cash was confiscated by the State of Delaware pursuant to the drug asset forfeiture statute or 16 Del. C. Section 4784. According to the Petition, the funds represented $1, 800.00 acquired through Petitioner's landlord and $900.00 from the Red Cross, as well as gift cards and donations.[1] A non-jury trial was held on November 8, 2018. The parties were given an opportunity to supplement the record and briefing is now complete.

         The events leading up to the seizure can be summarized as follows. On September 21, 2017, Petitioner rented a Dodge Charger and asked a friend's sister, Lauren Wesley ("Wesley"), to help her with some errands. Wesley picked up Petitioner's husband and friends to take them to Maryland.[2] Wilmington Police conducted a stop of the car because the license plate light was out.[3] At the time of the stop, Wesley was a passenger in the backseat and according to Petitioner, Wesley called her from the car. Petitioner claims she then told Wesley that she had money in the glove compartment and Petitioner asked Wesley to hold it for her.[4] The State's witness testified that they could see a lot of moving around between the driver/front seat and someone turning around and reaching to the rear passenger-side occupant (Wesley).[5]

         The windows of the car were open and the police detected a strong smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle.[6] The occupants were asked to exit the vehicle and the police conducted a search. The police found what was believed to be marijuana residue (untested) in the back seat on the floor near Wesley, but no other drugs.[7] The police then searched Wesley's purse and found $2, 500 in cash folded-over and rubber-banded (the "Seized Funds").[8]

         The Seized Funds consisted of one hundred (100) $20.00 bills, two (2) $50.00 bills and four (4) $100.00 bills, which the officer testified is consistent with drug dealing.[9] The police questioned Wesley about the funds and although she claimed the money belonged to her, she could not accurately identify the amount of mooney.[10] Wesley then filled out a Notice of Forfeiture Form claiming ownership of the funds.[11]

         Later, the State sent the Seized Funds to the Delaware National Guard for testing. According to the State's witness, the funds were run through the normal ION-Scan procedure. The machine is set to alarm if drug residue is detected that has at least two times higher than the average in digit units.[12] The current average is 150 digit units and the machine will signal if residue is found in excess of 300 digit units.[13] The Seized Funds tested at 360 digit units for cocaine, or 60 digit units above the threshold.[14] The average positive screen for cocaine is usually around 500 digit units.[15]

         FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         A few important facts are not in dispute.[16] First, Petitioner's residence was destroyed by a fire that occurred on September 7, 2017. As a result, her landlord refunded her security deposit and rent for a total of $1, 800.00. Petitioner's testimony and documentation in support were not contradicted. Petitioner testified she received $1, 800.00 in all hundreds from her landlord on or about September 14, 2017.[17] Petitioner also testified that she deposited that money into her bank account.[18] What happened to those funds is in dispute.

         Second, Petitioner owned several vehicles, and was also the named party on the rental agreement for the Dodge Charger that was stopped by the police. The parties dispute why Petitioner had a need for the rental car, but do not disagree that it was in her name. Petitioner clarified in her response that the rental car cost was a total of $484.59 a month, not for a single day, which is more likely to be true. Petitioner also explained that despite owning several vehicles, one was in the repair shop, one was not properly tagged, and one was on loan to a family member.

         Third, Petitioner received $900.00 from the Red Cross on or about September 18, 2017 (and prior to September 23, 2017).[19] Petitioner claims she withdrew the entire $900.00 from a card at a Wawa.[20] However, the State's witness claims it was a check from the Red Cross.[21]

         According to Petitioner's Wells Fargo bank records, she deposited $2, 500.00 on September 18, 2017.[22] The next day, she made a withdrawal of $1, 000.00. The State argues that the bank records do not reflect other withdrawals to support Petitioner's testimony that she deposited the landlord and Red Cross money, withdrew it, and placed it in the glove compartment of the rental vehicle.[23]

         The parties also agree that Wesley executed the Notification of Forfeiture wherein she represents that "the property described above was seized from me. I am the owner of the property." Despite this, Petitioner did not produce Ms. Wesley as a witness at the time of the trial.

         In a civil forfeiture matter, the burden is upon the State to show probable cause that the property seized is subject to forfeiture under 16 Del. C. §4784. "The State is required to demonstrate that there are reasonable grounds for belief of guilt, supported by less than prima facie proof but more than mere suspicion, and that the money was furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for illegal substances, or the profits or proceeds of sales related thereto."[24] The bases of the State's claim in this matter is that the Seized Funds were drug dealing proceedings, found in close proximity to illegal drugs or trace amounts of controlled substances were found on the currency. To rebut the State's case, the Petitioner must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she had a possessory interest in the property and that the Seized Funds were not subject to forfeiture.[25]

         Of note, no criminal charges were initiated as a result of the stop.[26] It is true that "an acquittal or dismissal of charges in a criminal proceeding does not preclude civil proceedings pursuant to Superior Court Civil Rule 71.3"[27] but this does not end the analysis.

         The State asserted several bases for possible forfeiture of the Seized Funds. Pursuant to the State's post-trial brief, the State first moves for forfeiture pursuant to 16 Del. C. §4784(a)(7) because the money was tendered for the exchange of controlled substances. At trial, the State's argument was focused on the denominations of money found.[28] I find that the denominations alone is insufficient evidence in the record to support the State's theory that the Seized Funds were tendered in exchange for controlled substances.

         The State's second argument espoused at trial, is that the Seized Funds were found in "close proximity" to marijuana because the car smelled of marijuana and there was some residue throughout the backseat where Wesley was sitting. The statute though requires the State to prove that the Seized Funds were:

Found in close proximity to forfeitable controlled substances, or to forfeitable records of the importation, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances.. .[29]

         The smell of marijuana and possible residue is insufficient to establish reasonable grounds for belief that a ...


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