IN THE MATTER OF PROPERTY SEIZED FROM JEAN CARLOS HERRERA and FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ, JEAN CARLOS HERRERA and FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ, Claimants-Appellants.
from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County,
Gregory W. Steensland, Judge.
appeal from asset forfeiture proceeding filed pursuant to
Iowa Code chapter 809A (2015). AFFIRMED IN PART,
REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.
Stowers of Stowers & Sarcone PLC, West Des Moines, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Bridget A. Chambers,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.
by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.
consolidated appeal, Jean Carlos Herrera and Fernando
Rodriguez each appeal from separate orders issued in the same
civil asset forfeiture proceeding initiated pursuant to Iowa
Code chapter 809A (2015). Herrera appeals from an order
forfeiting certain property to the State of Iowa. The
property was forfeited on the ground Herrera failed to file a
proper answer in response to the State's petition. In his
appeal, Herrera contends he should be excused from compliance
with the statutory pleading requirements because compliance
would violate his right to be free from unreasonable search
and seizure and his right against self-incrimination.
Rodriguez was successful in obtaining the return of certain
property, but he appeals from an order denying his request
for statutory attorney fees. In his appeal, Rodriguez
contends he was the prevailing party and thus entitled to
statutory attorney fees.
case arises out of an Interstate traffic stop and roadside
detention. The particular facts and circumstances surrounding
the traffic stop and detention are largely immaterial to the
resolution of the claims on appeal. In short, in September
2015, an Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) officer
initiated a traffic stop of a Ford Expedition being driven by
Herrera. The ground for the traffic stop was Herrera was
exceeding the speed limit. Over the course of a forty-minute
detention, the officer claimed to have developed reasonable
suspicion Herrera and his passenger were engaged in drug
trafficking. Herrera denied consent to search the vehicle,
but the officer persisted. Without Herrera's consent, the
officer used a canine unit to investigate further. The canine
unit alerted to the Expedition. After additional officers
arrived at the scene, the officers searched the vehicle. The
officers found the following: an ice cream maker, which had
been gutted; a cordless drill and battery, which could be
used to open the ice cream maker; a "boost phone, "
which is commonly used in drug trafficking; marijuana
paraphernalia and a trace of marijuana inside a Pelican case;
a rivet gun and rivets; a cellophane dispenser; a vacuum
pump; $2600 in cash in the center console of the vehicle; and
$887 in cash in the passenger's pocket. The officers also
found a false compartment under the vehicle, but the false
compartment was empty. The officers returned the cash to
Herrera and the passenger but seized the other items,
including the vehicle. The officers allowed the men to call
for a taxi and leave the scene. The vehicle was towed to the
IDOT maintenance garage. The vehicle was searched again at
the garage, but the officers did not find anything else.
became involved in this case after the officers seized the
Expedition. Rodriguez is the registered owner of the vehicle,
and he obtained counsel to reclaim the vehicle. The officer
initiating the traffic stop learned Rodriguez was interested
in reclaiming the vehicle. Rodriguez's efforts to reclaim
the vehicle caused the officer to become suspicious; in the
officer's view, the market value of the old vehicle did
not justify any effort to recover the vehicle. The officer
emailed the assistant county attorney responsible for
Rodriguez's claim, and the assistant county attorney
informed the officer Rodriguez would be able to recover
attorney fees if he prevailed on his claim. This undoubtedly
should have lessened any suspicion. Nonetheless, the officer
obtained a search warrant for the vehicle. The application
for the warrant relied on the officer's suspicion
generated by the mere fact Rodriguez sought the return of his
vehicle, but the application failed to mention Rodriguez
would be entitled to fees if he prevailed on his claim. When
the officers executed the search warrant, they found a secret
compartment underneath the center console containing $44, 900
October of 2015, the State filed an in rem forfeiture
complaint, seeking forfeiture of the items seized during the
traffic stop and during the subsequent search pursuant to the
warrant. Herrera and Rodriguez filed a joint answer. Their
answer contained the following statements:
1. I, Fernando Rodriguez, am the owner of the 1999 Ford
Expedition identified in the complaint as being subject to
forfeiture and an interest holder in the property seized
therefrom, including the U.S. Currency in the vehicle.
2. I, Jean Carlos Herrera, was in lawful possession of the
1999 Ford Expedition, soft serve ice cream machine, pelican
case, cordless drill and battery, vacuum pump and U.S.
Currency identified in the complaint as being subject to
forfeiture and have a legal ownership and possessory interest
in those items.
3.We would ask that all mail in this matter be sent to our
attorney . . . .
4.With this answer we are also filing a motion asserting that
the vehicle stop, the subsequent detention and seizure, and
the search of that vehicle, violated the prohibition against
unreasonable searches and seizures found in the Fourth
Amendment to the United States Constitution and the
corresponding provision of the Iowa Constitution.
5.The exclusionary rule under the Fourth Amendment and Iowa
Constitution applies in forfeiture proceedings. See In re
Flowers, 474 N.W.2d 546, 548 (Iowa 1991).
6.By virtue of the application of the exclusionary rule,
further statements concerning the vehicle and its contents
would constitute derivative evidence also subject to the
exclusionary rule. Consequently, until there is a
determination on the motion to suppress, we object to
providing further information for the reason that such
further information would be the product of the original
search and seizure that we believe violated by [sic]
7. We request that the vehicle and its contents be returned
to Jean Carlos Herrera and Fernando Rodriguez . . . .
signed the answer, but Rodriguez did not. In addition to the
answer, Herrera filed a motion to suppress evidence. Herrera
claimed the traffic stop was unlawful at its inception and in
its scope. Herrera also filed a supplemental motion to
suppress, arguing the subsequent search was unconstitutional
because it was granted pursuant to a defective application
and because probable cause was based solely on Rodriguez
obtaining counsel to reclaim his vehicle.
claims were resolved in February 2016. At that time, the
district court granted the State's motion to dismiss
Herrera's claim on the ground Herrera's answer failed
to comply with statutory pleading requirements. The district
court denied Herrera's motion to suppress evidence,
concluding the issue was moot because Herrera had not filed a
proper answer and thus had no standing to challenge the
forfeiture. Herrera timely filed his appeal.
claim was resolved shortly after Herrera's claim. The
prosecutor notified the district court the State no longer
had any objection to the return of the Expedition to
Rodriguez. The claim was resolved without any hearing on
Rodriguez's claim. Rodriguez's counsel sought
attorney's fees pursuant to section 809A.12(7),
contending he was a prevailing party within the meaning of
the statute. See Iowa Code § 809A.12(7)
("The agency or political subdivision bringing the
forfeiture action shall pay the reasonable attorney fees and
costs, as determined by the court, incurred by a claimant who
prevails on a claim for exemption in proceeding under this
chapter."); see also Iowa Code § 809A.5(1)
(defining exempt property to include property belonging to an
innocent owner). The district court denied the fee claim.
Rodriguez timely filed his appeal.
review of forfeiture proceedings is for correction of errors
at law. See In re Young, 780 N.W.2d 726, 727 (Iowa
2010). To the extent claimants raise ...