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In re U.S. Currency in the Amount of $2,390 - 5/23/2012

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two Holds That The Mere Fact That Currency Subject To Forfeiture Was Located In A Vehicle Does Not Obligate The State To Provide Notice Of The Pending Forfeiture To The Vehicle’s Owner.

After responding to a report of gunshots at a local bar, Tucson police became involved in a car chase of Jaime Cazares.  During the chase, Cazares stopped at a house and asked one of the residents to hide cash.  Police later found $2,390 in currency hidden in an alley behind the house. After catching Cazares, the State started civil forfeiture proceedings against the vehicle Cazares was driving and the cash. 

The registered owner of the vehicle was Ana Navarro.  In an effort to comply with statutory notice requirements, the state sent Navarro notices of the pending forfeiture via certified and first-class mail to a Florida address.  Both mailings were returned with an “insufficient address” stamp.  Later, the state sent another round of certified and first class mail to Navarro at a different address found on the vehicle’s loan documents.  The certified mail was returned as unclaimed, leaving only the regular mailing as having possibly reached Navarro.  The state then applied for forfeiture.  After a hearing, the court granted forfeiture of the vehicle but denied forfeiture of the currency because of flawed notice under Section 13-4307.  The state appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed.  The civil forfeiture statutes require the state to provide notice to all “persons known to have an interest” in the subject property.  A.R.S. § 13-4309(1).  Section 13-4307(1) requires the state to provide notice via personal service or by certified mail when an address is known.  The statute further states that someone is “known to have an interest” if the interest is “reflected in the public records in which his interest is required by law to be recorded” or “if his interest can be readily ascertained at the time of the commencement of the forfeiture action.”  A.R.S. § 13-4301(6). 

The Court explained that there was nothing in the record indicating that Navarro had possession, control, or “any financial stake” in the currency.  The only apparent relationship of Navarro to the cash was that Cazares “possessed it while driving Navarro’s vehicle.”  This slim connection was not enough for the state to have “readily ascertained” any interest Navarro may have in the cash.  Consequently, the Court held that Navarro was not a “[p]erson known to have an interest” in the currency.  A.R.S. § 13-4301(6).  The state therefore did not need to provide notice to Navarro regarding the currency under Section 13-4307. 

In any event, the Court held that the state’s efforts to comply with the notice requirements were satisfactory.  The state sent certified mail to Navarro’s current address of record with Florida’s motor vehicle department.  In addition, the state’s second mailing to an additional address satisfied the due process requirement to provide “notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.”  Jones v. Flowers, 547 U.S. 220, 226 (2006). 

Judge Espinosa authored the unanimous opinion; Judges Vásquez and Kelly concurred.

Posted by:Joseph Roth

Posted On: 5/30/2012