Com. v. $301,360.00 U.S. Currency and One 2011 Lexus RX350, VIN 2T2BK1BA48C081250 Appeal of: C. Vasquez

IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA Commonwealth of Pennsylvania : : v. : No. 1229 C.D. 2016 : Argued: September 13, 2017 $301,360.00 U.S. Currency and : One 2011 Lexus, RX350, : VIN #2T2BK1BA48C081250 : : Appeal of: Clarissa Vasquez : BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge1 HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge OPINION BY JUDGE COHN JUBELIRER FILED: April 4, 2018 In this appeal, we examine the Commonwealth’s burden of proof to justify forfeiture of property under the Controlled Substances Forfeiture Act (Forfeiture Act),2 when, at a traffic stop on a known drug route, no controlled substances were 1 This case was argued before an en banc panel of the Court that included former Judge Joseph M. Cosgrove. Because Judge Cosgrove’s service on the Court ended January 1, 2018, this matter has been submitted on briefs to Judge Covey as a member of the panel. 2 42 Pa. C.S. §§ 6801–6802. We note that while this appeal was pending, the General Assembly repealed those sections of the Forfeiture Act by the Act of June 29, 2017, P.L. 247, effective July 1, 2017. The Forfeiture Act is now codified at 42 Pa. C.S. §§ 5801-5808. However, the prior statute remains applicable in this appeal and is referenced herein as the Forfeiture Act. found and no arrests were made, although $301,360 in cash was found hidden in a secret compartment in the vehicle. The Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County (trial court) found that the cash and vehicle had been used in illegal drug trafficking in violation of the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act (Drug Act),3 based on 27 “indicators” of illegal activity. Although we agree that the presence of this cash, under the totality of the circumstances here, is highly suspicious, we cannot find that these suspicions are sufficient to establish the requisite substantial nexus between the cash and vehicle and violations of the Drug Act. We must therefore reverse. I. Background On June 11, 2014, Enrique Laporte (Laporte) was driving west with his passenger, Zaida Lopez (Ms. Lopez), both New York residents, on Interstate 80 in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, in a 2011 Lexus RX3504 (Lexus) later found to be titled in the name of Luis Lopez and registered to Clarissa Vasquez (Vasquez), when he was pulled over for tailgating. During the traffic stop, Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) Corporal Nicholas Cortes (Corporal Cortes) observed numerous indicators of criminal activity, including, inter alia, the overwhelming odor of air fresheners, various prayer cards in the dashboard area, Laporte’s tattoos,5 the vehicle traveling on a known drug route, and the driver’s and passenger’s criminal histories and 3 Act of April 14, 1972, P.L. 233, as amended, 35 P.S. §§ 780-101-780-144. 4 The vehicle’s identification number (VIN) is #2T2BK1BA48C081250. 5 Laporte’s tattoos included the following: one reading “Dirty Money” with money bags next to it; one of ...

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