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State v. Approximately $110

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

August 29, 2019

THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellant
v.
APPROXIMATELY $110, 540.00, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 281st District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2017-09348

          Panel consists of Justices Wise, Zimmerer, and Spain.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KEN WISE JUSTICE.

         Police officers seized $110, 540 from Oscar Almaraz. The State sought forfeiture of the money and relied solely on deemed admissions at trial. The trial court rendered a judgment for Almaraz. In a single issue, the State contends that the evidence is legally insufficient to support the trial court's judgment because the trial court erred by failing to consider the deemed admissions. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Neither Almaraz nor his attorney attended trial. The State offered a single exhibit as evidence. The exhibit includes a letter purportedly sent to Almaraz's attorney and requests for admissions. The requests asked Almaraz to admit, among other things, that police officers stopped his vehicle, he did not have insurance or a driver's license, he had a Mexican identification card, he gave consent for a search, and officers discovered a bag in the back seat of the vehicle containing approximately $110, 540 in United States currency.

         The State asked Almaraz to admit several merit-preclusive issues, such as (1) the currency was contraband; (2) it was subject to forfeiture, (3) it was derived from the manufacture, sale, distribution, possession, purchase, or delivery of controlled substances; and (4) it was derived from theft or conversion of stolen property. The State also asked Almaraz to admit that he "now know[s] that on or about January 20, 2017, a narcotics canine gave a positive alert for the odor of narcotics on the APPROXIMATELY $110, 540.00."

         The trial court admitted the exhibit into evidence. The State argued to the trial court that Almaraz failed to respond to the requests, so the admissions were deemed. The court rendered a judgment for Almaraz, stating that the currency was not subject to forfeiture based on the evidence and pleadings on file.

         The State filed a motion for new trial. After a hearing at which Almaraz's attorney testified, the trial court denied the motion. On the State's request, the trial court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law, finding among other things that:

• "There is no evidence Almaraz received the requests for admissions. There is no evidence that Almaraz acted in bad faith in not answering the sixty-nine requests for admission or acted in flagrant bad faith or callous disregard for the rules."
• "The Court further concludes that the $110, 540 seized property is not contraband and that there was no probable cause to seize Almaraz's property."

         The State appeals.

         II. Analysis

         In a single issue, the State contends that the evidence is legally insufficient to support the trial court's dispositive findings because the trial court failed to consider the deemed admissions.[1] The State challenges the trial court's findings, among others, that (1) there is no evidence that Almaraz received the requests; (2) there is no evidence that Almaraz acted in bad faith or callous ...


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