IN COURT OF APPEALS
Lisa N. Borgen,
Filed May 2, 2006
Clay County District Court
File No. C9-03-739, C7-02-2334
Lisa N. Borgen, Clay County Attorney, Jenny M. Samarzja, Assistant County Attorney, 807 North 11th Street, Moorhead, MN 56561 (for respondent)
Craig E. Cascarano,
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.
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.
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
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
The legislature made plain its intent behind the
forfeiture statute by enacting a section that states its purpose.
Sections 609.531 to 609.5318 must be liberally construed to carry out the following remedial purposes:
(1) to enforce the law;
(2) to deter crime;
(3) to reduce the economic incentive to engage in criminal enterprise;
(4) to increase the pecuniary loss resulting from the detection of criminal activity; and
(5) to forfeit property unlawfully used or acquired and divert the property to law enforcement purposes.
Appellant contends that the forfeiture of his house violates
the federal and
The United States
Supreme Court articulated the gross-disproportionality test for use in determining
whether a punishment violates the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the
Eighth Amendment. Solem v. Helm, 463
one’s house under this statute is a case of first impression in
1. Gravity of Offense and Harshness of the Penalty
The supreme court,
in applying the Solem test, stated,
with regard to the first prong, that “drug use and distribution is one of the
greatest problems affecting the health and welfare of our population.” Rewitzer,
617 N.W.2dat 414. Additionally, “[t]he Minnesota Legislature
has targeted . . . controlled-substance crime because of [its] social and
economic impact and has set severe maximum penalties . . . .” State
v. Kujak, 639 N.W.2d 878, 884 (
The offense that appellant was convicted of is a grave one, as it is a high-degree controlled-substance crime. Although appellant was convicted of possession and not sale or distribution, the underlying facts from appellant’s trial and plea, which the district court took judicial notice of, clearly reveal that he was selling cocaine out of his house. Thus, the effect of appellant’s offense on the public renders his offense sufficiently grave.
It was permissible
for the district court to consider the underlying facts of appellant’s
drug-sale activity although he was not convicted of a sale offense because
forfeiture under Minn. Stat. § 609.5311 need not arise from a conviction.
have long been faced with the forfeiture of homes and have routinely upheld
forfeiture, despite the harsh result. See 32 Medley Lane, 372 F. Supp. 2d at
266-67 (stating that “[t]he Court fully realizes that the forfeiture of the . .
. home will have a profound impact on the entire family); United States v. 829 Calle de Madero, 100 F.3d 734, 739 (10th Cir.
1996) (stating that when “evaluating the harshness of the sanction, we
recognize that this forfeiture will displace the Claimants’ three minor
children from their family home”). But “Congress
concluded that when real property is used to facilitate the . . . distribution
of drugs, forfeiture—even of a family home—is appropriate, and this Court
cannot say that in the circumstances of this case, the Constitution forbids
The same can be
said for the
2. Comparison to Other
In order to determine whether forfeiture in a particular case is comparable to fines imposed for other Minnesota crimes, courts look to the sentencing guidelines to determine what other offenses are of similar severity. Rewitzer, 617 N.W.2d at 414; see also Kujak, 639 N.W.2d at 884-85. Thus, the district court analyzes the severity level of the offense and looks at the penalties for other offenses at that level. Rewitzer, 617 N.W.2d at 414-15.
charged with a severity-level 9 offense (sale) and charged with and convicted
of a severity-level 8 offense (possession).
the value of the property forfeited may exceed, even considerably, the fine range provided by the Sentencing Guidelines[, it] does not necessarily mean that the forfeiture is grossly disproportional. . . . [N]o mathematical formula will substitute for a careful assessment of all facts and factors and the application of sound judgment to what all must acknowledge is an “inherently imprecise” task.
we do not have other home-forfeiture cases in
argues that the district court erred because it did not look at fines that were
imposed on actual defendants solely within
3. Comparison to Other Jurisdictions
This prong involves
a comparison that is similar to the previous one, in that courts look to other
jurisdictions for the penalties of similar offenses in order to determine
proportionality. Rewitzer, 617 N.W.2d at 415.
This includes the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, as well as other
states’ sentencing statutes.
The district court
determined that under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, appellant’s offense would
be categorized as a level-12 offense.
The fines imposed for offenses at that level range between $3,000 and
challenges the district court’s methodology, arguing that it was improper to consider
the federal guidelines because they are inapplicable to
4. Instrumentality or Nexus
Under the nexus
test, a court considers “‘not how much
the confiscated property is worth, but whether
the confiscated property has a close enough relationship to the offense.’” City of
Worthington Police Dep’t, 516 N.W.2d at 584(quoting
But a high
standard must be met when the object of the forfeiture action is one that is
pervasive and used for many activities, both criminal and non-criminal. See
Riley v. 1987 Station Wagon, VIN:1JCMT7840HTI07485, 650 N.W.2d 441, 445 (
A similar analysis
is applicable here because ownership of a house is also common in our
society. Appellant’s house was the
instrument for his drug-sale operation and drug possession. While it is true that a house is not
necessary to facilitate the sale or possession of drugs, the question is
whether appellant used the house to sell or possess drugs. City of
all of the alleged drug transactions took place at the house in question. The house was used both to store drugs in [appellant’s] possession, and also to gain privacy for his drug transactions. The use of the house made the sales easier to conceal, as they could be kept out of the sight of the public.
Because we conclude that such use meets the “direct and substantial connection” requirement, the district court did not err by concluding that appellant’s house was an instrumentality of his criminal activity.
D E C I S I O N
Because forfeiture of appellant’s house and money is not grossly disproportional and because the house was an instrumentality of appellant’s criminal activity, the forfeiture under Minn. Stat. § 609.5311 (2004) does not constitute an unconstitutionally excessive fine.