Acting as owner of vehicle can qualify as owner for purposes of forfeiture of vehicle used in drug trafficking: COM. V. COFFEY (SC 3/20/2008)

COM. V. BARRY COFFEY
CRIMINAL:  Acting as owner of vehicle can qualify as owner for purposes of forfeiture of vehicle used in drug trafficking
2006-SC-000172-DG.pdf
PUBLISHED: REVERSING
OPINION BY NOBLE
MINTON DISSENTS BY SEPARATE OPINION IN WHICH ABRAMSON JOINS
BARREN COUNTY
DATE RENDERED: 3/20/2008

The single issue on appeal in this case is whether the bare title holder of a vehicle, which is in fact under the dominion and control of a defendant who used the vehicle for drug trafficking, is the "owner" of the vehicle for purposes of forfeiture pursuant to KRS 218A.410(h)(2).  Because Coffey acted as the owner of the Malibu, even though legal title was held by his sister, Geralean, he had an "interest in property" under KRS 218A.405(1)(b) and (5)(b). Geralean presented no evidence to establish that she was the innocent owner of the Malibu. She was present and represented at the hearing on forfeiture conducted by the trial court, but did not establish any indicia of ownership other than holding legal title to the vehicle. To the contrary, she claimed no knowledge as to why the vehicle was titled in her name, did not use it, and took no responsibility for items found in it. Consequently, under this statute and the facts of this case, Coffey is the owner of the Malibu for purposes of the forfeiture statute, and the trial court ruled correctly. The Opinion of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the judgment of the trial court is reinstated.

Digested by Scott C. Byrd

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