Petition for Return of Property DENIED
Worley, Pro Se
Danielle Brennan, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General,
Wilmington, Delaware for the State of Delaware
KATHARINE L. MAYER COMMISSIONER.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
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. 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.
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. Wilmington Police conducted a stop of the
car because the license plate light was out. 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. 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).
windows of the car were open and the police detected a strong
smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle. 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. The police then searched Wesley's
purse and found $2, 500 in cash folded-over and rubber-banded
(the "Seized Funds").
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. 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. Wesley then filled out a Notice of
Forfeiture Form claiming ownership of the
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. The current average is 150 digit units
and the machine will signal if residue is found in excess of
300 digit units. The Seized Funds tested at 360 digit
units for cocaine, or 60 digit units above the
threshold. The average positive screen for cocaine
is usually around 500 digit units.
OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
important facts are not in dispute. 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. Petitioner also testified that she
deposited that money into her bank account. What happened
to those funds is in dispute.
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.
Petitioner received $900.00 from the Red Cross on or about
September 18, 2017 (and prior to September 23,
2017). Petitioner claims she withdrew the
entire $900.00 from a card at a Wawa. However, the
State's witness claims it was a check from the Red
to Petitioner's Wells Fargo bank records, she deposited
$2, 500.00 on September 18, 2017. 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.
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.
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." 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.
note, no criminal charges were initiated as a result of the
stop. 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" but this does not end the analysis.
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. 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.
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..
smell of marijuana and possible residue is insufficient to
establish reasonable grounds for belief that a ...