Clay County District Court File Nos. C9-03-739 & C7-02-2334.
Forfeiture of a house valued at $18,300 and $1,230 in cash under Minn. Stat. § 609.5311 (2004) as a result of a conviction of second-degree controlled-substance offense is not an unconstitutionally excessive fine under either the gross-disproportionality or nexus tests.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Halbrooks, Judge
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court's order that he forfeit his house and any drug-related money found in the house as the result of execution of a search warrant. Appellant argues that the forfeiture is an unconstitutionally excessive fine and that the district court erred in finding that it met the gross-disproportionality and nexus tests. Because the forfeiture meets both the gross-disproportionality and the nexus tests, we conclude that it is not an unconstitutionally excessive fine. We therefore affirm.
Between November 2001 and August 2002, law enforcement investigated appellant Santos Martinez for suspected drug-related offenses. During that time, the police made eight controlled buys of cocaine from appellant at his house, obtaining a total of 15.1 grams of cocaine. The police then obtained and executed a search warrant for the premises. As a result of the search, law enforcement recovered an additional 6.6 grams of cocaine and $1,230 in cash, some portion of which was money from the controlled buys. The total value of the cocaine recovered as a result of the controlled buys and the search warrant was $1,500 or more.
The state charged appellant with multiple controlled-substance offenses. In addition, the state served appellant with a complaint seeking forfeiture of the $1,230 and appellant's house. Appellant was tried on a first-degree controlled-substance offense charge, but the trial resulted in a hung jury. Appellant then pleaded guilty to second-degree controlled-substance offense.
The district court conducted a bench trial on the forfeiture complaint and took judicial notice of the facts adduced at the trial for first-degree controlled-substance crime (sale) and from appellant's guilty plea to second-degree controlled-substance crime (possession). The parties also stipulated that appellant's home's tax valuation was $18,300. The district court ordered the property and money to be forfeited because it found that both the gross-disproportionality and nexus tests had been satisfied. This appeal follows.
Does forfeiture of appellant's house and $1,230 in cash, as a result of the controlled-substance offenses, constitute an excessive fine in violation of the federal and Minnesota constitutions?
The applicable forfeiture statute states, in pertinent part: "All property, real and personal, that has been used, . . . or has in any way facilitated, in whole or in part, the . . . exchanging of contraband or a controlled substance . . . is subject to forfeiture." Minn. Stat. § 609.5311, subd. 2 (2004). But the statute places a limitation on the forfeiture of real property. "Real property is subject to forfeiture under this ...