The Supreme Court of Louisiana reinstated a district court’s judgment of forfeiture against Nathaniel White’s 2002 Chevrolet Trail Blazer; reversing the judgment of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana. The lower appellate court had itself reversed the district court; rejecting the district court’s conjecture that the vehicle was used to facilitate the sale of narcotics when Mr. White allegedly stored cocaine in his vehicle’s fuse box during intra-city travel. Louisiana’s high court agreed with the Fourth Circuit appellate court regarding facilitation. However, the Supreme Court of Louisiana reasoned that Mr. White’s use of the vehicle to possess cocaine exposed the vehicle to forfeiture (under Louisiana’s Controlled Substances Law) and decided to reinstate the forfeiture in accordance with that observation.
Because the forfeited property is a motor vehicle, “the seizing agency may retain use of the motor vehicle for use in the course and scope of undercover surveillance and investigation of violations of the Louisiana Controlled Dangerous Substances Law.” (La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 40:2616)
All other property forfeited pursuant to Louisiana’s controlled substances code is deposited into the Special Asset Forfeiture Fund which is administered by local district attorneys’ offices. After paying off any outstanding security interests or liens on forfeited property, district attorneys may deduct costs (“all proper expenses of the proceedings for forfeiture and sale, including expenses of seizure, maintenance of custody, advertising, and court costs”) from forfeiture revenues before divvying up net profits between the courts, prosecutors and participating seizing agencies:
“(a) Sixty percent thereof to the law enforcement agency or agencies making the seizure, such proceeds to be used in drug law enforcement, including but not limited to reward programs established by such agencies.
(b) Twenty percent thereof to the criminal court fund.
(c) Twenty percent thereof to any district attorney’s office that employs the attorneys that handle the forfeiture action for the state. This shall be paid into the district attorney’s twelve percent fund to be used for public purposes including, but not limited to use for prosecution, rewards, support and continuing legal education in furtherance of this Chapter, and in regard to Chapter 4 of Title 40 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950.” La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 40:2616
Louisiana’s Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in an asset forfeiture case rising from the Third Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana as well (State of Louisiana v. $144,320.00, et al. 84 So.3d 768 (2012)).
Neither case addressed judicial incentives to direct verdicts.