State v. One 1969 Blue Pontiac Firebird, No. 24272.

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtSabers
Citation2007 SD 63,737 N.W.2d 271
Decision Date27 June 2007
Docket NumberNo. 24272.
PartiesSTATE of South Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. ONE 1969 BLUE PONTIAC FIREBIRD, VIN # 223379U128403, and $4,303.83 In American Currency, Defendant and Appellant.
737 N.W.2d 271
2007 SD 63
STATE of South Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
ONE 1969 BLUE PONTIAC FIREBIRD, VIN # 223379U128403, and $4,303.83 In American Currency, Defendant and Appellant.
No. 24272.
Supreme Court of South Dakota.
Considered on Briefs April 23, 2007.
Decided June 27, 2007.

Lawrence E. Long, Attorney General, Pierre, South Dakota, Constance K. Larson, Assistant Attorney General, Sioux

[737 N.W.2d 272]

Falls, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

Richard L. Johnson, Attorney at Law, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Attorney for defendant and appellant.

SABERS, Justice.


[¶ 1.] After the State filed a complaint alleging One 1969 Blue Pontiac (Blue Pontiac) and $4,303.83 in American Currency1 were subject to forfeiture, Ora Mae Baade (Baade) filed a verified answer claiming the Blue Pontiac was hers and demanded a jury trial. The circuit court found there is no right to a jury trial in a forfeiture action and denied her request. Baade appeals and we reverse.

FACTS

[¶ 2.] According to the complaint, the car was seized because it had been used to transport, possess, or conceal controlled drugs or substances on the dates of July 13, 2006 through July 17, 2006. Baade is the registered owner of the Blue Pontiac. However, the complaint alleged the true owner is her son, Thomas Baade.

[¶ 3.] In her answer, Baade claimed that "she did not know, and in the exercise of ordinary care should not have known, that [her vehicle] transported, possessed, or concealed any quantity of controlled drugs" or was intended to be used in that manner. Baade requested the return of her Blue Pontiac and demanded a jury trial pursuant to the Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article VI section 6 of the South Dakota Constitution.

[¶ 4.] Later, Baade made a separate motion for a jury trial. The court held a hearing on the motion, but denied her demand for a jury trial. Baade filed a petition for discretionary appeal with this Court, which was granted. The sole issue on appeal is:

Whether Article VI, section 6 of the South Dakota Constitution provides for a jury trial in civil forfeiture actions.2

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 5.] The parties agree that SDCL 34-20B-88 provides for a court trial in a contested forfeiture action.3 If the South Dakota Constitution provides for a jury trial in forfeiture actions, then the statute would be unconstitutional to the extent it denies the parties the right to a jury trial. The constitutionality of a statute is a question of law reviewed de novo.

737 N.W.2d 273

State v. $1,010 in American Currency, 2006 SD 84, ¶ 8, 722 N.W.2d 92, 94.

[¶ 6.] Article VI, section 6 of the South Dakota Constitution provides,

The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate and shall extend to all cases at law without regard to the amount in controversy, but the Legislature may provide for a jury of less than twelve in any court not a court of record and for the decision of civil cases by three-fourths of the jury in any court.

This section of the Constitution guarantees both litigants the right to a jury trial. First Nat'l Bank of Philip v. Temple, 2002 SD 36, ¶ 10, 642 N.W.2d 197, 201. We have recognized that the right to a jury trial does not exist in all cases, id., but exists in cases "where such right existed at common law." State v. Page, 2006 SD 2, ¶ 76, 709 N.W.2d 739, 764.4 "In cases where the pleadings seek equitable relief or where the legal relief is incidental, a jury trial is a matter for the trial court's discretion. Conversely, when the action is at law, either party has a right to a jury trial." First Nat'l Bank of Philip, 2002 SD 36, ¶ 10, 642 N.W.2d at 201 (quoting First W. Bank, Sturgis v. Livestock Yards, 466 N.W.2d 853, 856 (S.D.1991)) (additional citations omitted).

[¶ 7.] The State argues there are two reasons Baade should be denied a jury trial. First, forfeiture actions arise in equity, and there is no right to a jury trial when the case arises in equity. Second, drug forfeitures did not exist when South Dakota ratified its Constitution; therefore, the Constitution did not preserve the right to a jury trial.

A. Equity

[¶ 8.] This Court has not considered whether forfeiture actions are equitable in nature. The State claims that forfeiture actions arise in equity because they involve "unjust enrichment of persons involved in the drug trade." In support of its argument, it lists several circuit court orders that deny a jury trial in forfeiture cases. The State claims these circuit courts have "found drug asset forfeiture cases to be equitable in nature and have denied jury trials." However, only one order denies a jury trial because it found a forfeiture case involving money to be equitable. The record does not indicate if the other circuit courts considered whether forfeiture is an equitable action as the other orders simply state the case will be heard by the court pursuant to SDCL 34-20B-88, the section of the forfeiture statutes relating to trials. Moreover, these circuit court orders are not binding on this Court.

[¶ 9.] Furthermore, forfeiture cases involving items allegedly used to transport drugs, as alleged in this case, may not involve unjust enrichment. It could be argued that forfeiture cases involving suspected drug proceeds would involve unjust enrichment. However, the statutes do not require the items to be derived from drug dealing in order to bring a forfeiture action. SDCL 34-20B-70.5 In that respect,

737 N.W.2d 274

the drug forfeiture statutes do not appear to be equitable.

[¶ 10.] In addition, as far back as 1823, the United States Supreme Court has found forfeiture actions to be proceedings at common law. United States v. One 1976 Mercedes Benz 280S, 618 F.2d 453, 459 (7thCir.1980) (quoting The Sarah, 8 Wheat. 391, 394, 5 L.Ed. 644 (1823)). The Supreme Court noted, "In the trial of all cases of seizure, on land, the court sits as a court of common law." The Sarah, 8 Wheat. at 394, 5 L.Ed. at 644. "In all cases at common law, the trial must be by jury." Id; see also C.J. Hendry Co. v. Moore, 318 U.S. 133, 137-140, 63 S.Ct. 499, 501-503, 87 L.Ed. 663 (1943) (noting that historically, a forfeiture proceedings was conducted as a trial by jury); One 1976 Mercedes Benz 280S, 618 F.2d at 464 (quoting C.J. Hendry, 318 U.S. at 153, 63 S.Ct. at 510) (noting that the common understanding was forfeiture cases were in common law).

[¶ 11.] Authority indicates civil forfeiture proceedings are proceedings at law and are not equitable.6 As proceedings at law, the right to a jury trial existed at common law. Therefore, our next inquiry is whether our Constitution preserved the right to a jury trial in forfeiture cases.

B. Jury Trial under South Dakota Constitution

[¶ 12.] As Baade concedes, the right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution is not applicable to the states. However, the underlying analysis and rationale when deciding a right to a jury trial exists in civil forfeiture actions in federal court is helpful in our inquiry. The wording of the Seventh Amendment is similar to Article VI section 6 and this section of our constitution is understood to "preserve the right to a jury where such right existed at common law" just as "[i]n Suits at common law ... the right of a trial by jury shall be preserved" under the Seventh Amendment.7 Moreover, our civil forfeiture actions predicated upon SDCL 34-20B-70 are based on the federal forfeiture statutes.

737 N.W.2d 275

State v. One 1995 Silver Jeep Grand Cherokee and $497 in American Currency, 2006 SD 29, ¶ 5, 712 N.W.2d 646, 649.

[¶ 13.] In One 1976 Mercedes Benz 280S, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held the Seventh Amendment preserved the right to a jury trial in civil forfeiture actions. 618 F.2d at 454. The Seventh Circuit noted that as far back as 1823 the United States Supreme Court has acknowledged that "[i]n the trial of all cases of seizure, on land, the court sits as a court of common law." Id. at 459 (quoting The Sarah, 8 Wheat. at 394, 5 L.Ed. 644). The court of appeals found it an "inescapable" conclusion that prior to December 15, 17918 statutory forfeitures on land were conducted as jury trials. Id. at 466. Thus, the Seventh Amendment preserved the right to a jury trial in forfeiture actions conducted in federal court.

[¶ 14.] In addition to the federal courts, several states have considered whether their state constitutions require a jury trial in civil forfeiture actions. A survey of states indicates the courts found a jury trial is available in California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont and Oklahoma.9

[¶ 15.] On the other hand, Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee and North Dakota have found a jury trial is not required in civil forfeitures.10

[¶ 16.] In State v. $17,515.00 in Cash Money, the North Dakota Supreme Court found there is not a right to a jury trial in drug forfeiture...

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4 practice notes
  • State v. Chilinski, DA 14-0299
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • November 1, 2016
    ...exist at the time the constitution was adopted, the defendant was not entitled to a jury trial. State v. One 1969 Blue Pontiac Firebird , 737 N.W.2d 271, 277 (S.D. 2007). In Florida, the Supreme Court adopted the historical analysis of One 1976 Mercedes Benz and concluded that common law co......
  • Granite Buick GMC, Inc. v. Ray, No. 26842.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 5, 2014
    ...to a jury trial in the common-law courts of [territorial South Dakota].” State v. One 1969 Blue Pontiac Firebird, 2007 S.D. 63, ¶ 18, 737 N.W.2d 271, 276 (quoting State v. One 1990 Honda Accord, 154 N.J. 373, 712 A.2d 1148, 1150–51 (1998) ). [¶ 10.] In this case, all claims and defenses wer......
  • Moeckly v. Hanson, #29100
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • July 29, 2020
    ...jury trial in the common-law courts.’ " Id. ¶ 9, 856 N.W.2d at 803 (quoting State v. One 1969 Blue Pontiac Firebird , 2007 S.D. 63, ¶ 18, 737 N.W.2d 271, 276 ).[¶30.] This has been a partition action from the start, and partition is an equitable proceeding. See Gartner , 2014 S.D. 74, ¶ 7, ......
  • In re BMW 740I, 2007 Ohio 5876 (Ohio App. 11/2/2007), Appeal No. C-070085.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • November 2, 2007
    ...Mims Amusement Co. v. South Carolina Law Enforcement Div. (S.C.2005), 621 S.E.2d 344; State v. One 1969 Blue Pontiac Firebird (S.D.2007), 737 N.W.2d 271; State ex rel. Dugger v. Twelve Thousand Dollars Cash (Okla.Civ.App.2007), 155 P.3d 858; People v. $17,522.08 United States Currency (2006......
4 cases
  • State v. Chilinski, DA 14-0299
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • November 1, 2016
    ...exist at the time the constitution was adopted, the defendant was not entitled to a jury trial. State v. One 1969 Blue Pontiac Firebird , 737 N.W.2d 271, 277 (S.D. 2007). In Florida, the Supreme Court adopted the historical analysis of One 1976 Mercedes Benz and concluded that common law co......
  • Granite Buick GMC, Inc. v. Ray, No. 26842.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 5, 2014
    ...to a jury trial in the common-law courts of [territorial South Dakota].” State v. One 1969 Blue Pontiac Firebird, 2007 S.D. 63, ¶ 18, 737 N.W.2d 271, 276 (quoting State v. One 1990 Honda Accord, 154 N.J. 373, 712 A.2d 1148, 1150–51 (1998) ). [¶ 10.] In this case, all claims and defenses wer......
  • Moeckly v. Hanson, #29100
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • July 29, 2020
    ...trial in the common-law courts.’ " Id. ¶ 9, 856 N.W.2d at 803 (quoting State v. One 1969 Blue Pontiac Firebird , 2007 S.D. 63, ¶ 18, 737 N.W.2d 271, 276 ).[¶30.] This has been a partition action from the start, and partition is an equitable proceeding. See Gartner , 2014 S.D. 74, ¶ 7, ......
  • In re BMW 740I, 2007 Ohio 5876 (Ohio App. 11/2/2007), Appeal No. C-070085.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • November 2, 2007
    ...Mims Amusement Co. v. South Carolina Law Enforcement Div. (S.C.2005), 621 S.E.2d 344; State v. One 1969 Blue Pontiac Firebird (S.D.2007), 737 N.W.2d 271; State ex rel. Dugger v. Twelve Thousand Dollars Cash (Okla.Civ.App.2007), 155 P.3d 858; People v. $17,522.08 United States Currency (2006......

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