This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Richard J. Jacobson,
Filed January 24, 2006
Dakota County District Court
File No. C4-04-6891
Randall D.B. Tigue, Randall Tigue Law Office, P.A., Suite 100, Minnehaha Professional Building, 3960 Minnehaha Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55406 (for appellant)
James C. Backstrom,
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Richard Jacobson challenges a judicial forfeiture ruling that all but $1,000 of $55,900 in currency found in an apartment owned by appellant was subject to forfeiture. Appellant argues that: (1) the district court erred by finding that he had not rebutted the statutory presumption arising from the discovery of the money in close proximity to drugs; (2) the district court erred by admitting canine sniff evidence to prove the connection between the drugs and the currency; and (3) the evidence was insufficient to support forfeiture by clear and convincing evidence. Because the district court found that appellant had failed to rebut the statutory presumption, except as to the $1,000 bill, and because there is reasonable evidence in the record to support the district court’s findings, we affirm.
trial, appellant called four witnesses.
Three witnesses testified that they had seen appellant going into the
safe on numerous occasions when appellant had occupied the apartment, and each
had observed that appellant was the owner of a rare $1,000 bill. Two witnesses, who had later rented the
apartment from appellant, testified that he had never disclosed to them the
combination of the safe. Further,
Appellant testified that the $55,900 was his money, which he earned while operating Jake’s bar. He testified that he left the money in the safe even after he moved out of the apartment in 1999 because he felt it was safe to keep it in a building which had a security system. Appellant also testified that he had never given the combination to the safe to anyone else, had not opened the safe since late in 1999 or early 2000, and had since forgotten the combination.
After hearing all of the testimony, the district court found that appellant had not rebutted the state’s statutory presumption arising from the proximity of the currency to controlled substances, except as to the $1,000 bill. The district court issued a forfeiture order, returning the $1,000 bill to appellant and forfeiting the remainder of the $55,900.
moved for amended findings, arguing that: (1) the canine sniff evidence was
irrelevant and prejudicial; (2) his tax returns supported his ability to
accumulate $55,900; (3) he had met his evidentiary burden based on
D E C I S I O N
The framework for forfeitures of
property associated with or connected to controlled substances is set out in
Minn. Stat. §§ 609.531–.5318 (2004). The
purposes of forfeitures are to: (1) enforce law; (2) deter crime; (3)
reduce economic incentive to engage in the drug trade; (4) increase pecuniary
loss as a result of criminal activity; and (5) divert the unlawful property to
law enforcement purposes. Minn. Stat. § 609.531,
subd. 1a (2004); Blanche v. 1995
A forfeiture proceeding is a civil in rem action, and the agency handling
the forfeiture has the benefit of a statutory presumption if the seized item is
found in proximity to controlled substances or the proceeds of a crime. Minn. Stat. §§ 609.531, subd. 6a(a), .5314,
subd. 1(a) (2004). Officers discovered
the $55,900 in a safe located in the bedroom of an apartment from which drugs
were admittedly being dealt. The police
found eight pounds of marijuana on an entryway shelf in the small apartment
dwelling. A trained canine smelled the
presence of controlled substances on the safe and later on the currency removed
from the safe. It reasonably appeared
that the currency was related to or was, in fact, the proceeds from drug
trafficking. Therefore, title vested in
the state when the currency was found.
The person claiming ownership of the item bears the initial burden of rebutting this presumption. Minn. Stat. § 609.5314, subd. 1(b). Only if the claimant successfully rebuts the presumption does the burden revert back to the state to prove the forfeiture by clear and convincing evidence. Minn. Stat. § 609.531, subd. 6a(a).
a threshold matter, the state argues that because appellant did not make a
motion for a new trial, the scope of the review in this matter should be
limited to “whether the evidence sustains the findings of fact and whether such
findings sustain the conclusions of law and the judgment.” Gruenhagen
motion for a new trial is not a prerequisite for appellate review of
substantive questions of law when a genuine issue of law was properly raised in
the district court. Alpha Real Estate Co. of Rochester v. Delta Dental, 664 N.W.2d 303,
Appellant argues that the district court erred regarding: (1) the sufficiency of the evidence to overcome the presumption; (2) the admission and weight given to the canine sniff evidence; and (3) assuming the burden shifted, respondent’s satisfaction of the clear-and-convincing standard. The district court’s determination of whether the dog sniff evidence was admissible is an evidentiary ruling and, therefore, not reviewable under Sauter without a motion for new trial.
But appellant’s arguments that the factfinder gave undue weight to the canine sniff evidence and that the evidence did not meet the clear-and-convincing standard are effectively subparts of appellant’s sufficiency-of-the-evidence argument. These are questions of law that were raised and briefed by appellant to the district court in appellant’s motion for amended findings, and they are subject to appellate review even without a motion for a new trial.
Appellant argues that there was sufficient evidence at trial to rebut the statutory presumption, thus shifting the burden to the state to prove forfeitability. In challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, appellant argues that: (1) the district court gave undue weight to the canine sniff evidence; and (2) the district court erroneously considered the credibility of appellant’s witnesses.
district court’s “[f]indings of fact, whether based on oral or documentary
evidence, shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall
be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the
In order to rebut the presumption of forfeitability, appellant had the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the currency was his. In support of that proposition, Carlisle—who had pleaded guilty to dealing drugs out of the apartment—testified that the money in the microwave was his drug money, but that the currency in the safe was not his. Appellant testified that the safe was his, and the currency found in the safe was also his. Appellant’s testimony regarding the $1,000 bill was supported by testimony from three other witnesses.
In determining that appellant had not proved ownership of currency—other than the $1,000 bill—the district court considered both canine sniff evidence and the credibility of the witnesses. In support of its holding, the district court found that: (1) appellant’s testimony that he simply left the safe behind and never went back for it in three years was not believable; (2) currency giving off a drug odor that a canine would detect was much more likely to have been exposed to drugs recently, rather than three years prior; (3) income reported on appellant’s tax returns did not leave the impression of someone who had accumulated enough money to have $55,900 cash laying around in a safe for three years; (4) appellant proved that he regularly used the safe when he occupied the apartment and that he owned a rare $1,000 bill, but he failed to prove that the currency found in the safe three years later was his; (5) appellant’s testimony that he alone knew the combination to the safe and had forgotten it was not credible; and (6) Carlisle’s testimony that he never attempted to get into the safe, which was being used as a nightstand beside the bed, was not credible.
Appellant argues that the district court gave undue weight to the canine sniff evidence in determining that the currency was connected to the sale of controlled substances. Citing numerous criminal drug cases, appellant argues that canine sniff evidence is limited to proving probable cause, and asserts that it cannot be used as substantive evidence of a connection between controlled substances and currency. We find no merit to appellant’s argument. There is no support—either in appellant’s cited cases or elsewhere—for appellant’s proposition that canine sniff evidence is limited to proving probable cause, and we decline to adopt such a proposition here.
In addition, appellant argues for
the first time on appeal that the district court should not have considered the
credibility of the witnesses during appellant’s rebuttal of the statutory
presumption. Appellant relies
exclusively on State v. Slaughter,
691 N.W.2d 70 (
Finally, appellant argues that the
record supports findings other than those made by the district court. On review, we look at the evidence in the light
most favorable to the district court’s judgment, and we affirm if there is
reasonable evidence to support the district court’s findings.
It is only when the claimant successfully rebuts the presumption that the burden reverts back to the state to prove the forfeiture by clear and convincing evidence. Minn. Stat. § 609.531, subd. 6a(a) (2004). Because we conclude that the district court did not err in finding appellant had not overcome the statutory presumption, and because failure to overcome the presumption effectively ends the district court’s analysis, we conclude that the district court did not err by not addressing whether the evidence met the more stringent clear-and-convincing standard.
 While we do not decide this matter here, appellant’s
use of State v. Slaughter, 691 N.W.2d