SUMTER POLICE DEPT. v. Blue Mazda Truck, No. 2808.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtANDERSON.
Citation498 S.E.2d 894,330 S.C. 371
Docket NumberNo. 2808.
Decision Date16 March 1998
PartiesCITY OF SUMTER POLICE DEPARTMENT, Appellant, v. ONE (1) 1992 BLUE MAZDA TRUCK (VIN # JM2UF1132N0294812), Owner of Record: Stevie L. Ratcliff, Respondent.

330 S.C. 371
498 S.E.2d 894

CITY OF SUMTER POLICE DEPARTMENT, Appellant,
v.
ONE (1) 1992 BLUE MAZDA TRUCK (VIN # JM2UF1132N0294812), Owner of Record: Stevie L. Ratcliff, Respondent

No. 2808.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina.

Submitted March 3, 1998.

Decided March 16, 1998.


330 S.C. 372
Martha McElveen Horne, of City of Sumter Police Department, and Terrell T. Home, of Bryan, Bahnmuller, Goldman & McElveen, Sumter, for Appellant

Kenneth R. Young, Jr., of Young, Young & Reiter, Sumter, for Respondent.

ANDERSON, Judge:

This is a statutory construction case involving S.C.Code Ann. § 56-5-6240 (Supp.1997). The statute provides for civil forfeiture of a driver's vehicle upon conviction for "a fourth or subsequent violation within the last ten years of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs (DUI)." The circuit court held the statute requires a conviction for DUI, fourth offense, before imposition of forfeiture

330 S.C. 373
of the driver's vehicle, and ruled Stevie L. Ratcliff's vehicle was not subject to forfeiture. We reverse and remand, holding the statute requires only that the defendant have four or more DUI convictions within a ten-year period.1

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The facts are not disputed. On April 15, 1993, a Sumter police officer arrested Ratcliff and charged him with DUI, fourth offense. As part of a plea bargain, Ratcliff pled guilty on March 21, 1994 to DUI, third offense.2

Following Ratcliff's conviction, the City of Sumter Police Department filed this action seeking forfeiture of Ratcliff's 1992 blue Mazda truck3 pursuant to section 56-5-6240. In the alternative, the Police Department sought storage fees. Ratcliff opposed the forfeiture, alleging the statute did not apply to him because he pled guilty to DUI, third offense. The circuit court agreed, concluding the statute required a conviction for DUI, fourth offense, not a conviction for a fourth DUI violation within a ten-year period. The court ruled Ratcliff's vehicle was not subject to forfeiture. The City of Sumter Police Department appeals.

ISSUES

(1) Does section 56-5-6240 allow a vehicle to be seized when the driver has four convictions for DUI in the last ten years, or does it require a conviction for DUI, fourth offense?
(2) If the vehicle is not subject to forfeiture, may the law enforcement agency charge storage fees for the period it has held the vehicle?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

An action for forfeiture of property is a civil action at law. State v. Petty, 270 S.C. 206, 241 S.E.2d 561 (1978). "In

330 S.C. 374
an action at law, on appeal of a case tried without a jury, the findings of fact of the judge will not be disturbed on appeal unless found to be without evidence which reasonably supports the judge's findings." Townes Assocs., Ltd. v. City of Greenville, 266 S.C. 81, 86, 221 S.E.2d 773, 775 (1976). "The judge's findings are equivalent to a jury's findings in a law action." Id. See also King v. PYA/Monarch, Inc., 317 S.C. 385, 453 S.E.2d 885 (1995) (in an action at law, tried without a jury, the judge's findings will not be disturbed unless they are without evidentiary support)

LAW/ANALYSIS

The civil forfeiture statute, section 56-5-6240, provides in pertinent part:

(A) In addition to the penalties for persons convicted of ... a fourth or subsequent violation within the last ten years of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs (DUI), the persons must have the motor vehicle they drove during this offense forfeited if the offender is the owner of record....
(B) Upon the conviction of the person driving the vehicle, or upon his plea of guilty or nolo contendere to these offenses, the sheriff or chief of police shall initiate an action in the circuit court of the county in which the vehicle was seized to accomplish forfeiture.... The court shall order a vehicle returned to the owner of record if it is shown by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) the use of the vehicle on the occasion of arrest was not either expressly or impliedly authorized, or (2) the owner of record did not know that the driver had no valid driver's license. Otherwise, the court shall order the vehicle forfeited.

S.C.Code Ann. § 56-5-6240 (Supp.1997) (emphasis added).

At issue in this appeal is the meaning of the phrase, "convicted of ... a fourth or subsequent violation ... [for DUI]." According to Ratcliff, the language means DUI, fourth offense, not a fourth conviction for a DUI violation. He contends that since his latest conviction was for DUI, third offense, the forfeiture statute cannot be applied in this instance.

330 S.C. 375
The City of Sumter Police Department argues section 56-5-6240 only requires a conviction for a fourth or subsequent DUI violation within a ten-year period. The Department asserts that where the DUI offense is in fact a fourth or subsequent violation during the relevant period, the vehicle is subject to forfeiture regardless of the fact that the driver was allowed to plead guilty to DUI, third offense. We agree

The cardinal rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and effectuate the legislative intent whenever possible. Horn v. Davis Elec. Constructors, Inc., 307 S.C. 559, 416 S.E.2d 634 (1992). All rules of statutory construction are subservient to the one that the legislative intent must prevail if it reasonably can be discovered in the language used, and the language must be construed in the light of the intended purpose of the statute. Kiriakides v. United Artists Communications, Inc., 312 S.C. 271, 440 S.E.2d 364 (1994). The determination of legislative intent is a matter of law. Charleston County Parks & Recreation Comm'n v. Somers, 319 S.C. 65, 459 S.E.2d 841 (1995).

The legislature's intent should be ascertained primarily from the plain language of the statute. State v. Hendriks, 318 S.C. 562, 459 S.E.2d 520 (Ct.App.1995). Words must be given their plain and...

To continue reading

Request your trial
29 practice notes
  • Thompson ex rel. Harvey v. Cisson Const., No. 4339.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 1 Febrero 2008
    ...at 247, 519 S.E.2d at 582; Brassell, 326 S.C. at 561, 486 S.E.2d at 495; City of Sumter Police Dep't v. One (1) 1992 Blue Mazda Truck, 330 S.C. 371, 376, 498 S.E.2d 894, 896 (Ct.App. 1998). In construing a statute, the court looks to the language as a whole in light of its manifest purpose.......
  • Bass v. Isochem, No. 3996.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 6 Junio 2005
    ...at 247, 519 S.E.2d at 582; Brassell, 326 S.C. at 561, 486 S.E.2d at 495; City of Sumter Police Dep't v. One (1) 1992 Blue Mazda Truck, 330 S.C. 371, 498 S.E.2d 894 (Ct.App.1998). In construing a statute, the court looks to the language as a whole in light of its manifest purpose. State v. D......
  • Grinnell Corp. v. Wood, No. 4355.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 11 Marzo 2008
    ...at 247, 519 S.E.2d at 582; Brassell, 326 S.C. at 561, 486 S.E.2d at 495; City of Sumter Police Dep't v. One (1) 1992 Blue Mazda Truck, 330 S.C. 371, 376, 498 S.E.2d 894, 896 (Ct.App. 1998). In construing a statute, the court looks to the language as a whole in light of its manifest purpose.......
  • State v. Dupree, No. 3657.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 30 Junio 2003
    ...577 (Ct.App.1999). The determination of legislative intent is a matter of law. City of Sumter Police Dep't v. One 1992 Blue Mazda Truck, 330 S.C. 371, 498 S.E.2d 894 (Ct.App. The legislature's intent should be ascertained primarily from the plain language of the statute. Stephen v. Avins Co......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
29 cases
  • Thompson ex rel. Harvey v. Cisson Const., No. 4339.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 1 Febrero 2008
    ...at 247, 519 S.E.2d at 582; Brassell, 326 S.C. at 561, 486 S.E.2d at 495; City of Sumter Police Dep't v. One (1) 1992 Blue Mazda Truck, 330 S.C. 371, 376, 498 S.E.2d 894, 896 (Ct.App. 1998). In construing a statute, the court looks to the language as a whole in light of its manifest purpose.......
  • Bass v. Isochem, No. 3996.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 6 Junio 2005
    ...at 247, 519 S.E.2d at 582; Brassell, 326 S.C. at 561, 486 S.E.2d at 495; City of Sumter Police Dep't v. One (1) 1992 Blue Mazda Truck, 330 S.C. 371, 498 S.E.2d 894 (Ct.App.1998). In construing a statute, the court looks to the language as a whole in light of its manifest purpose. State v. D......
  • Grinnell Corp. v. Wood, No. 4355.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 11 Marzo 2008
    ...at 247, 519 S.E.2d at 582; Brassell, 326 S.C. at 561, 486 S.E.2d at 495; City of Sumter Police Dep't v. One (1) 1992 Blue Mazda Truck, 330 S.C. 371, 376, 498 S.E.2d 894, 896 (Ct.App. 1998). In construing a statute, the court looks to the language as a whole in light of its manifest purpose.......
  • State v. Dupree, No. 3657.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 30 Junio 2003
    ...577 (Ct.App.1999). The determination of legislative intent is a matter of law. City of Sumter Police Dep't v. One 1992 Blue Mazda Truck, 330 S.C. 371, 498 S.E.2d 894 (Ct.App. The legislature's intent should be ascertained primarily from the plain language of the statute. Stephen v. Avins Co......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT