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People ex rel Birkett v. 1998 Chevrolet Corvette

June 20, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 00-MR-948 Honorable Bonnie M. Wheaton, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Callum

The State filed a verified complaint seeking the forfeiture of a 1998 Chevrolet Corvette, VIN 1G1YY22G2W5108366. The complaint alleged that the Corvette was subject to forfeiture pursuant to section 505(a)(3) of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act (Substances Act) (720 ILCS 570/505(a)(3) (West 2000)) and the provisions of the Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act (Forfeiture Act) (725 ILCS 150/1 et seq. (West 2000)). The complaint alleged that the car was used or was intended to be used to facilitate a violation of the Substances Act and was seized from Dina M. Doyle on August 28, 2000. Claimant, Robert Doyle (Robert or claimant), filed a verified claim asserting that he was an innocent owner of the Corvette and that it was not forfeitable as neither he nor Dina Doyle, who was alleged to have an interest in the car, was involved in any illegal action making it subject to forfeiture.

Following a bench trial, the trial court found that Dina Doyle was the owner of the Corvette within the meaning of the Forfeiture Act and ordered the forfeiture of the car to the State as provided by law. Claimant appeals, arguing essentially that (1) the State's evidence was insufficient to prove that the use of the car (in connection with a drug offense) by a third party (Michael Mohr) was more than mere "incidental use" of the car; (2) the car did not "facilitate" a violation of the Substances Act; and (3) the trial court erred in ordering the forfeiture of claimant's interest in the car as he was a co-owner of the car and did not know of, acquiesce in, or consent to a third party's conduct that gave rise to the forfeiture. We affirm.

At the trial, the parties stipulated that, if Officer Mario Mineo were called to testify, he would testify essentially as follows. On August 28, 2000, Mineo was a Glendale Heights police officer. He assisted in the arrest of Dina Doyle on an outstanding warrant. Upon his arrival at 139 E. Montana, Mineo observed Dina standing at the rear of a white 1998 Corvette, with the rear hatch open. A second person known to Mineo as Michael Mohr was sitting in the driver's seat with the door closed. Mohr was leaning over the center console with his hands toward the passenger side of the car. Mineo asked Mohr to exit the car and, as he did, Mineo could see that Mohr was sweating and shaking. Mineo looked into the passenger side of the car and saw a small tinfoil package lying on the floor of the passenger side. Mineo knew that heroin is commonly packaged in tinfoil. He retrieved the package and opened it, finding a white powdery substance that later tested positive for the presence of heroin. Mohr had previously told Mineo that he used heroin.

When Mineo told Mohr and Dina what he had found, Dina stated, without being questioned, that the heroin was Mohr's and that she knew that he also had a needle in the car. Mohr denied knowledge of the heroin at that time. Later, Mohr told Mineo that the heroin was Dina's and that he had done heroin earlier that day. Mohr was charged with possession of a controlled substance for the heroin found in the Corvette on August 28, 2000. Dina was not charged.

Officer Mineo had also arrested Dina on August 13, 1999. On that day Mineo stopped the 1998 Corvette. Mohr was the driver. Mohr was arrested for driving with a revoked license, and Dina was arrested for possession of heroin. Dina had two baggies in her purse; one had a white powdery substance and one had white residue. Dina admitted that the substance was heroin. Dina pleaded guilty to that offense and the case (No. 99--CF--2017) was still open. Mineo also reviewed Glendale Heights police report No. 9917213, which contained facts regarding Dina's arrest for having no valid driver's license. On December 2, 1999, Dina was again stopped while driving the Corvette and was arrested for not having a valid driver's license. At the time of the arrest, Dina's purse was searched, and Officer Lambert located a rolled-up dollar bill with white powdery residue on it. That substance later tested positive for heroin. That case (No. 00--CF--2198) was still pending.

During Mineo's arrests of Dina, he saw in the car women's clothing consistent with what he knew to be Dina's employment at the time. Mineo also had prior non-custodial contacts with Dina while she was in the Corvette and on those occasions the vehicle contained women's clothing.

Garry Harrison, deputy chief of police of Glendale Heights, testified that, in connection with the investigation in August 2000, he obtained documents pertaining to the purchase of the car, and he testified regarding their content. The parties stipulated to the admission of these documents as business records generated at the time of sale, July 29, 1999. Exhibit No. 1 is a bill of sale for the Corvette from Woodfield Chevrolet, showing the total purchase price ($36,097.58), the down payment ($15,000), and the balance due. At the bottom is the signature of the buyer, "Robert Doyle," and the co-buyer, "Dina Marie Doyle." Exhibit No. 2 is a warranty buyer's guide signed by "Dina M. Doyle." Exhibit No. 3 is a "We-Owe" statement that the seller owed nothing to the customer and it has the signature of "Dina M. Doyle." Exhibit No. 4 is a "GM Resale Disclosure Notice of Nonconformity" with the signature of "Robert Doyle" as consumer and that of "Dina M. Doyle," which is crossed out. Exhibit No. 5 is a credit application signed "Dina Marie Doyle." Exhibit No. 6 is a La Salle Bank truth-in-lending disclosure form signed "Robert Doyle" and "Phyllis Doyle." Exhibit No. 7 is a $15,000 down payment check made out to Woodfield Chevrolet in the amount of $15,000 and signed "Dina Marie Doyle." Dina M. Doyle's name and address are printed on the check. Harrison testified that the signatures for Dina Doyle all appear to have been made by the same person.

Harrison interviewed Robert and Phyllis Doyle on August 31, 2000. Harrison asked Robert about a previous arrest of Dina in 1999 for a drug violation and the extent of his knowledge of Dina's drug use. Robert was aware of the August 1999 arrest. Robert was aware that in the 1999 arrest Dina blamed the possession of the drugs on Mohr. Robert had found a court order in connection with the arrest, ordering his daughter Dina into rehabilitation, which Robert and his wife had set up for her. Robert learned of Dina's and Michael's drug use at that time. Robert stated that the Corvette was in his name, as were all the vehicles at the house, and the insurance was in his name. Robert said that Dina made the payments on the Corvette, and she was the primary driver of the Corvette, but he had made a few payments when Dina did not have the money. Robert said he had driven the car occasionally, but he did not like to drive it because it was too hard to get in and out of and it was "too fast."

Harrison asked Phyllis Doyle about her daughter Dina's drug use. She knew of Mohr's drug problem and was beginning to think that Dina was involved in drugs. Phyllis said that the car belonged to Robert and that Dina saved her money and made the down payment and the monthly payments, but the car was in Robert's name because of Dina's credit and employment history. She said Dina was the primary driver of the Corvette except when she was unable to make the monthly payments.

Harrison further testified that Phyllis told him that Robert threatened to sell the Corvette and throw Dina out of the house. He also recalled Robert saying he was going to sell the car and move to Florida. The first statement was made in reference to a 1999 arrest, and the second was made in reference to the most recent arrest in 2000. Phyllis told him she knew that after the first 1999 arrest a seizure of the car was possible. Harrison explained that, after the first arrest, Mineo wanted to seize the car but explained to Phyllis that the vehicle was not going to be seized because, at that time, too much money was owed on it.

After the State rested, Robert Doyle testified that he was 62 years old, that his daughter was Dina Doyle, and that he was married to Phyllis Doyle. He had a 40-year-old daughter and a 22-year-old son. Robert said he had previously purchased a 1995 Corvette but it was "totaled" by his son in July 1999. It was stipulated that Robert received a check from the insurance company for the loss in the amount of $17,070.09. The insurance company had paid out a partial initial check in the amount of $9,322.41 that was placed into a savings account with his daughter at West Suburban Bank. He also had a joint checking account with Dina at St. Paul.

Dina went with Robert to purchase the 1998 Corvette at Woodfield Chevrolet. After agreeing on the purchase, Robert told Dina to write out a check for the down payment from their joint checking account because she had her check with her. She had her own checks without Robert's name on them. Robert paid for the insurance on both Corvettes. He had the authority to say who could use the car and when. He stated he had barred Dina from using the car many times. His son, Leon, used the car many times.

Robert testified that, on the day the 1998 Corvette was seized, he had not given Mohr permission to go inside the car and did not know that Mohr had drugs on him. Robert made payments on the car. Dina also made some payments when Robert gave her the money. His son also made payments when Robert gave him the money. Robert had told Harrison that they all made payments on the car as there were times when Robert could not make it to the bank. Robert admitted that he told Dina, his wife, and the police that he was going to sell the car because of what was going on. The loan for the car at La Salle ...

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