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Coulter v. Caviness

Court of Appeals of Indiana

July 11, 2019

Robert R. Coulter, III and Kerri E. Coulter,, Appellants-Respondents,
v.
Philip J. Caviness, Rush County Prosecutor, on behalf of State of Indiana, Appellee-Petitioner.

          Appeal from the Rush Superior Court The Honorable Brian Hill, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 70D01-1611-MI-358

          Attorney for Appellants Ross G. Thomas Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Justin F. Roebel Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          RILEY, JUDGE.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         [¶1] Appellants-Respondents, Robert Coulter III (Coulter) and Kerri Coulter (Kerri) (collectively, the Coulters), appeal from the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Appellee-Petitioner, Rush County Prosecutor Philip Caviness (Caviness), on his Complaint for civil forfeiture.

         [¶2] We affirm in part, reverse in part, remand for further proceedings, and remand for entry of summary judgment.

         ISSUE

         [¶3] The Coulters present us with three issues on appeal, which we consolidate and restate as: Whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Caviness on his Complaint for civil forfeiture of the Coulters' property.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         [¶4] On October 3, 2016, Detective Alex Shaver (Detective Shaver) of the Rushville Police Department was contacted by an employee of the Rushville branch of Wells Fargo Bank on a report that Coulter had come to the bank that morning and exchanged $9, 000 in $20 bills for $100 bills. The currency Coulter exchanged emitted a strong odor that Detective Shaver recognized as that of raw marijuana. Detective Shaver was also aware through his training and experience as a narcotics investigator that $20 bills are the most common unit of currency used in narcotics transactions. Detective Shaver retrieved surveillance camera footage from the bank showing Coulter arriving at the bank that morning in his black Chevrolet pickup truck.

         [¶5] On October 4, 2016, Detective Shaver retrieved the Coulters' trash after they had set it outside of their home for collection. A search of the trash netted mail belonging to Kerri, marijuana stems, leaves and seeds, and a large pair of scissors with marijuana plant and residue on it. Detective Shaver applied for and was granted a search warrant for the Coulters' home. On October 4, 2016, the warrant was executed. Officers found Coulter and Kerri at home with their minor children. After having been provided with his Miranda advisements, Coulter was asked if there was anything illegal in the home and was asked to show them where the marijuana was. Coulter replied, "Everything is in the safe." (Appellants' App. Vol. II, p. 35).

         [¶6] Coulter directed the officers to the first-floor master bedroom closet, where a safe was located. In the safe, the officers found a gym bag containing three and one-half pounds of marijuana, some of which was packaged in smaller bags, two digital scales, two boxes of Ziplock baggies, six cell phones, and a pill bottle containing marijuana seeds. Also found in the safe was $22, 907 in cash, a Dell laptop computer, and a Nikon camera. Further search of the master bedroom yielded a handwritten ledger and a Toshiba laptop computer that were both located on top of a desk. In an upstairs bedroom which was being used by Kerri's brother, the officers found in a dresser a box with the brother's name on it, drug use paraphernalia, and a bag of marijuana. In the upstairs bedroom the officers also located a Ruger rifle. Evidence of a marijuana growing operation was located in the Coulters' garage, including starter trays, potting soil, fertilizer, a tarp with trimmed marijuana leaves on it, and a large drum containing marijuana clippings. Coulter's black Chevrolet truck, the $22, 907 in cash, the two laptops, the Nikon camera, and the rifle found in the upstairs bedroom were seized as part of the criminal investigation.

         [¶7] Coulter was transported to the Rush County jail, where he was interviewed by Detective Shaver. Coulter admitted that he had been growing marijuana for eighteen years and that he had recently harvested a crop that he had grown in an open field close to his home. Coulter also admitted that he went to Indianapolis once every two weeks to purchase one-to-two pounds of marijuana. Coulter had approximately 130 customers and estimated that he generated an income of $800 per week dealing marijuana.

         [¶8] On October 7, 2016, the State filed an Information, charging Coulter with corrupt business influence, a Level 5 felony; dealing in marijuana, a Level 6 felony; maintaining a common nuisance, a Level 6 felony; and possession of marijuana, a Class B misdemeanor. On October 18, 2017, Coulter pleaded guilty to dealing in marijuana as a Level 6 felony. In exchange, the plea agreement provided that Coulter would receive a two-year sentence, all suspended to probation. In addition, all other charges pending against Coulter and Kerri were dismissed. On the same day, the trial court accepted Coulter's plea and sentenced him according to the terms of the plea agreement.

         [¶9] On November 15, 2016, Caviness filed a Complaint seeking civil forfeiture of the property seized after the search of the Coulters' home, alleging in relevant part as follows:

5.Over a period of time, [Coulter] has participated in, constructed and continued to operate a "corrupt enterprise" through a pattern of racketeering activity, as defined by statute, in that he, along with other unknown and unnamed co-conspirators, has engaged in conduct in the furtherance of an enterprise in which he cultivated illegal narcotics/drugs, possessed illegal ...

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