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Name: Cuevas v. Superior Court (Tulare County)
Case #: F064886
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 12/05/2013

A policing agency is not authorized to commence nonjudicial forfeiture proceedings. During an investigation, Police seized more than $7,000 from Cuevas and found trace amounts of methamphetamine in his wallet. Police gave Cuevas a “Notice of Nonjudicial Forfeiture Proceedings” form that stated his cash had been seized due to a violation of Health and Safety Code section 11379. The form warned that the seized cash would be forfeited unless Cuevas made a claim to it within 30 days, which he did not do. Cuevas was charged with drug possession (Health & Saf. Code, § 11377, subd. (a)). After the case was dismissed, the trial court declined to hear Cuevas’s Penal Code section 1538.5 motion for return of his property because the money was subject to a civil forfeiture. He filed a petition for writ of mandate in the Court of Appeal. Held: Petition granted. Section 11488.4 sets forth the procedure for both a judicial and nonjudicial forfeiture. Because forfeiture statutes are generally disfavored and strictly construed in favor of the person against whom forfeiture is sought, only the district attorney or Attorney General may institute forfeiture proceedings and provide notice; these duties may not be delegated to a law enforcement agency. Here the notice provided to Cuevas was defective in a number of respects: it was given by police; it failed to specifically identify the property; it misstated the location of the seizure; and the publication of notice was defective. Further, a section 11377, subdivision (a) offense is not listed in the forfeiture statutes. The forfeiture proceeding was invalid due to these defects in the procedure and notice. As a result, the trial court has jurisdiction to consider Cuevas’s claim because the currency was improperly released.