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State v. West

Court of Appeals of Georgia

March 30, 2015

STATE OF GEORGIA
v.
WEST

Forfeiture. Lowndes Superior Court. Before Judge Cowart.

J. David Miller, District Attorney, J. Bennett Threlkeld, Assistant District Attorney, for appellant.

Gregory Christy Maniklal & Dennis, Richard A. Wilkes, for appellee.

RAY, Judge. Andrews, P. J., Barnes, P. J., and Branch, J., concur. Doyle, P. J., McFadden and Boggs, JJ., dissent.

OPINION

Page 154

Ray, Judge.

In this forfeiture action, the trial court denied the State's forfeiture of West's vehicle after West pled guilty and was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. The State argues that the trial court misinterpreted the applicable provision of the forfeiture statute, OCGA § 16-13-49 (d) (6), and erroneously held that West's vehicle, which was in close proximity to his apartment in which the drugs were seized, was not subject to forfeiture because the State lacked evidence that the vehicle was in any way connected to the unlawful activity. We agree with the State that the plain language of the statute imposes no such requirement and, therefore, reverse.

[331 Ga.App. 746] The pertinent facts are undisputed. In June 2012, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant of an apartment in which West resided. The officers located and seized large amounts of marijuana, as well as scales and other equipment indicative of distribution. They also seized West's 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme which, as held by the trial court, " was parked in the front yard of the residence directly in front of the door." No contraband or money was found in the vehicle, no statement was made to police related to drug activity involving the vehicle, and no observation was made of West in or around the vehicle prior to the execution of the search warrant. West subsequently entered a guilty plea to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and was sentenced on that charge.

The State instituted forfeiture proceedings against West's vehicle pursuant to OCGA § 16-13-49 (d) (6), asserting that it was subject to forfeiture because it was located in " close proximity" to the marijuana. That statutory provision declares as contraband subject to forfeiture " [a]ll moneys ... or other things of value which are found in close proximity to any controlled substance or marijuana or other property which is subject to forfeiture under this subsection."

West filed an answer and statutory defense in which he asserted that he purchased the vehicle with money received through employment and student loans, and that it was not subject to forfeiture because it was not in close proximity to the marijuana or any other contraband, nor did it contain any contraband or money derived from unlawful activity.

The trial court thereafter issued an order holding that the vehicle was not subject to forfeiture on the basis of close proximity alone, in the absence of facts connecting the vehicle to West's illegal activity. Implicit in the order is the trial court's finding that the vehicle was, as a factual matter, located in " close proximity" to the marijuana seized from the apartment.

The State argues that the trial court misinterpreted the statute in holding that proximity alone was insufficient to authorize the forfeiture. We agree.

To resolve this issue, we must apply the controlling principles of statutory construction. When interpreting a legislative act, a court " must afford the words of the statute their ordinary signification, and ... presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant." (Citations and punctuation omitted.)

Page 155

Arby's Restaurant Group v. McRae, 292 Ga. 243, 245 (1) (734 S.E.2d 55) (2012); see OCGA § 1-3-1 (b). " [When] the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, judicial construction is not only unnecessary but forbidden." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Arby's Restaurant Group, supra at 245 (1). To the extent that judicial construction [331 Ga.App. 747] is necessary, " [w]e must seek to give meaning to each part of the statute and to avoid constructions which render a portion of the statute mere surplusage." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) City of Buchanan v. Pope, 222 Ga.App. 716, 717 (1) (476 S.E.2d 53) (1996). Finally, " it is a basic rule of construction that a statute or constitutional provision should be construed to make all its parts harmonize and to give a sensible ...


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