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Gonzalez v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 19, 2017

Edgar Ariel Gonzalez, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana and Pace Team, Appellees-Plaintiffs.

         Appeal from the Henry Circuit Court Trial Court Cause No. 33C01-1602-MI-10 The Honorable Bob A. Witham, Judge

          Attorney for Appellant Stephen Gerald Gray Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Frances Barrow Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Bailey, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Edgar Ariel Gonzalez ("Gonzalez") pled guilty to Possession of Marijuana, as a Class B misdemeanor.[1] The State filed civil proceedings and obtained forfeiture of $810.00 in Gonzalez's pocket at the time of his arrest. Gonzalez appeals, presenting the sole issue of whether the State presented sufficient evidence to support the trial court's forfeiture order. We reverse.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On January 25, 2016, Hancock County Sheriff's Deputy Nicholas Ernstes ("Deputy Ernstes") was on duty as part of a drug interdiction team patrolling traffic eastbound on I-70 in Henry County, Indiana. Deputy Ernstes observed a "substantially dirty" vehicle following too close to another vehicle. (Tr. at 8.) He received a "wanted/stolen hit on the license plate"[2] and initiated a traffic stop. (Tr. at 10.)

         [¶3] As Deputy Ernstes approached the vehicle, he smelled the odor of marijuana. He asked for vehicle registration and identification from the four occupants of the vehicle. When Gonzalez opened a glove box to retrieve the rental agreement for the vehicle, Deputy Ernstes observed a plastic item that he recognized as a marijuana dispensary container. He also observed marijuana residue throughout the vehicle. There appeared to be tool marks on the center console, and Deputy Ernstes suspected that there had been tampering.

         [¶4] Deputy Ernstes and back-up officers removed the vehicle occupants, searched them, and pried open the center console to look beneath it. In the area underneath the center console, an area typically left void, the officers discovered a substance that, to Deputy Ernstes, smelled like heroin. Deputy Ernstes observed that the substance changed color, appearing to test positive for heroin, after another officer subjected it to field testing.

         [¶5] It was discovered that the driver had rented the vehicle, one of the passengers had cocaine in her purse, and another passenger had secreted cocaine in her body. Each of the foregoing pled guilty to a felony related to possession of a narcotic. Gonzalez pled guilty to Possession of Marijuana, as a Class B misdemeanor.

         [¶6] On February 1, 2016, the State filed a Complaint for Forfeiture alleging that $810.00 had been seized from Gonzalez on January 25, 2016, and further alleging:

Said currency had been furnished or was intended to be furnished in exchange for a violation of a criminal statute, or used to facilitate any violation of a criminal statute or is traceable as proceeds of the violation of a criminal statute under Indiana law, as provided in I.C. 34-24-1.

         (App. at 8.) On November 23, 2016, a bench trial was conducted. On November 30, 2016, the trial court entered a ...


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