201 A.2d 427 (Pa. 1964), Commonwealth v. One 1958 Plymouth Sedan

Citation:201 A.2d 427, 414 Pa. 540
Opinion Judge:Author: Jones
Party Name:COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. ONE 1958 PLYMOUTH SEDAN (Piaza) Man. Serial # L Pin 3159 in Possession of George McGonigle, Appellant.
Case Date:April 21, 1964
Court:Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Page 427

201 A.2d 427 (Pa. 1964)

414 Pa. 540

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania


ONE 1958 PLYMOUTH SEDAN (Piaza) Man. Serial # L Pin 3159 in

Possession of George McGonigle, Appellant.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

April 21, 1964.

Rehearing Denied June 30, 1964.

Page 428

[414 Pa. 541] Paul M. Chalfin, Louis Lipschitz, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Thomas J. Shannon, Asst. Atty. Gen., Harrisburg, for Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

James Ianucci, Spec. Asst. Atty. Gen., Philadelphia, Walter E. Alessandroni, Atty. Gen., Harrisburg, for appellee.

[414 Pa. 540] Before BELL, C. J., and MUSMANNO, JONES, COHEN, EAGEN, O'BRIEN and ROBERTS, JJ.

[414 Pa. 541] JONES, Justice.

At approximately 6:30 a. m. on December 16, 1960, two officers of the Pennsylvama Liquor Control Board, stationed near the approach to the Benjamin Franklin bridge in New Jersey, observed a 1958 Plymouth sedan bearing Pennsylvania license plates proceeding toward the bridge in the direction of Philadelphia. Noting that 'the car was low in the rear, quite low', the officers followed the automobile across the bridge into Philadelphia where they stopped and searched the automobile without first having obtained either a body or a search warrant. Their search revealed that the rear seat the back-rest of the automobile had been removed[414 Pa. 542] and that the rear and trunk of the automobile contained 375 bottles of whiskey and wine none of which bore Pennsylvania tax seals.

Both the car and alcoholic beverages were seized. The Commonwealth instituted proceedings for the forfeiture of the automobile in the Court of Quarter Sessions of Philadelphia County. That court dismissed the forfeiture proceedings on the ground that the seizure of the automobile 'was founded upon evidence illegally obtained', i. e., without a warrant and without probable cause. The Superior

Page 429

Court reversed, three judges dissenting, and we granted an allocatur.

The thrust of the arguments, both of the appellant and the Commonwealth, is directed to the validity and propriety of the search and the subsequent seizure by the officers of this Plymouth automobile. In our view, such arguments are beyond the point. By reason of the nature of the present proceeding, i. e., a forfeiture procedure, we consider it unnecessary to determine the propriety and validity of the search and the seizure of this automobile.

This proceeding was instituted under the Act of April 12, 1951, P.L. 90, art. VI, § 601, as amended by the Act of April 20, 1956, P.L. (1955) 1508, § 1, 47 P.S. § 6-601, which provides: 'No property rights shall exist in any * * * vehicle * * * used in the illegal manufacture or illegal transportation of liquor, alcohol or malt or brewed beverages, and the same shall be deemed contraband and proceedings for its forfeiture to the Commonwealth may, at the discretion of the board, 1 be instituted in the [414 Pa. 543] manner hereinafter provided. No such property when in the custody of the law shall be seized or taken therefrom on any writ of replevin or like process.' (Emphasis supplied). This proceeding is not a criminal proceeding (Commonwealth v. One 1927 Graham Truck, 165 Pa.Super. 1, 67 A.2d 655; Commonwealth v. One 1939 Cadillac Sedan, supra) but a civil proceeding in rem (Commonwealth v. One Five-Passenger Overland Sedan, 90 Pa. Super. 376) and is directed to the confiscation of the property itself on the theory that the property is the offender.

The statute, upon which this proceeding is based, mandates that no property rights shall exist in an automobile used in the illegal transportation of liquor and declares an automobile engaged in such use shall be deemed to be contraband. Articles of contraband are things and objects outlawed and subject to forfeiture and destruction upon seizure: 17 C.J.S. p. 510. 'It is the use to which the property is put that renders property, otherwise lawful, rightful to have, use, and possess, subject to seizure and forfeiture': Hemenway & Moser Co. et al. v. Funk et al., 100 Utah 72, 106 P.2d 779. The purpose for which the thing or article is used acts as the criterion for the classification...

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