Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
THE 368TH DISTRICT COURT OF WILLIAMSON COUNTY NO.
18-1254-C395, THE HONORABLE RICK J. KENNON, JUDGE PRESIDING
Chief Justice Rose, Justices Triana and Smith.
D. Triana, Justice.
State of Texas appeals from the district court's order
granting a motion for new trial in a civil-asset-forfeiture
case. In its sole issue on appeal, the State asserts that the
district court erred in granting the motion for new trial
because, in the State's view, the district court no
longer had jurisdiction over the property that had been
forfeited. We will affirm the district court's order.
September 26, 2018, during a traffic stop on a vehicle that
belonged to Vicente Alonso-Carbajal, the State seized $71,
404.00, believing it to be contraband that was subject to
forfeiture under Chapter 59 of the Texas Code of Criminal
Procedure. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 59.01-.14.
The State subsequently charged Alonso-Carbajal with the
offense of money laundering.
retained counsel to represent him in the criminal case.
Although Alonso-Carbajal had not hired this counsel to
represent him in the civil-forfeiture proceedings, this
counsel filed an answer and general denial in response to the
State's notice of seizure and intended forfeiture, as was
this counsel's usual practice in cases involving the
seizure of his client's property.
February 13, 2019, the criminal case was scheduled for a plea
hearing. The parties anticipated that at this hearing,
Alonso-Carbajal would plead guilty to the money-laundering
charges. Before the hearing began, Bridget Chapman, an
attorney for the District Attorney's Office, presented to
counsel a "Stipulated Forfeiture and Agreed Final
Judgment," which ordered the forfeiture of the $71,
404.00. Counsel signed the judgment, as did Chapman and the
district court. Alonso-Carbajal was not present in the
courtroom when counsel signed the judgment, and it is
undisputed that counsel never discussed the judgment with his
client and that Alonso-Carbajal had no knowledge that counsel
had agreed to the forfeiture.
the plea hearing began, the district court admonished
Alonso-Carbajal of the possible immigration consequences of
his guilty plea. At that point, Alonso-Carbajal announced
that he no longer wanted to plead guilty and instead wanted
to discuss his case with an immigration attorney. The
criminal case was reset for March 26, 2019.
February 26, 2019, pursuant to the terms of the Agreed Final
Judgment, Ronnie Simek, the Financial Administrator for the
District Attorney's Office, instructed the Williamson
County Treasurer to withdraw the forfeited funds from the
District Attorney's interest-bearing "TexPool
Account" and deposit the funds into the District
Attorney's "Chapter 59 Account" for
disbursement to local law-enforcement agencies, in accordance
with the requirements of Chapter 59. See id. art.
59.06. On February 27, Simek disbursed the funds to the
Williamson County District Clerk, the Williamson County
Constable Precinct 3, the Williamson County Sheriff, and the
Williamson County District Attorney, in accordance with local
agreements relating to the disbursement of forfeited
funds. See id.
Alonso-Carbajal had hired new counsel to represent him. This
counsel informed Alonso-Carbajal that his $71, 404.00 had
been forfeited pursuant to the agreed judgment. On March 8,
2019, within 30 days after the judgment had been signed,
Alonso-Carbajal filed a motion for new trial, asking the
district court to vacate the judgment because Alonso-Carbajal
had not authorized his former counsel to sign it. The State
filed a response in opposition, arguing that because the
State had disbursed the forfeited funds, the district court
had lost jurisdiction to grant a new trial. Following a
hearing, the district court concluded that because the motion
for new trial had been filed within 30 days from the entry of
the judgment, the court "continue[d] to have
jurisdiction to deal with this property." The court then
granted the motion for new trial and set aside the judgment,
ordering that the funds be returned to the District
Attorney's "TexPool Account." This appeal by
the State followed.
sole issue on appeal, the State asserts that the district
court erred in granting a new trial because the district
court had lost jurisdiction over the forfeited funds after
they were disbursed by the State. "Subject matter
jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de
novo." Harris County v. Annab, 547 S.W.3d 609,
612 (Tex. 2018) (citing Texas Dep't of Parks &
Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 225-26 (Tex.
proceedings in Texas, although governed by the Code of
Criminal Procedure, "are distinctly civil in
nature." State v. One (1) 2004 Lincoln
Navigator, 494 S.W.3d 690, 693 (Tex. 2016); see
State v. Rumfolo, 545 S.W.2d 752, 754 (Tex. 1976);
see also Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 59.05(a)
("All parties must comply with the rules of pleading as
required in civil suits."), (b) ("All cases under
this chapter shall proceed to trial in the same manner as in
other civil cases."). Accordingly, the Rules of Civil
Procedure apply to forfeiture proceedings. Three Thousand
Six Hundred Thirty-Nine Dollars in U.S. Currency v.
State, 133 S.W.3d 698, 700 (Tex. App.-Corpus
Christi-Edinburg 2003, no pet.); F&H Invs., Inc. ...