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People v. One 2014 GMC Sierra

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

February 27, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ONE 2014 GMC SIERRA, Defendant Michael Sheland, Claimant-Appellant

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois. Circuit No. 16-MR-190 The Honorable Katherine Gorman Hubler, Judge, presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices O'Brien and Schmidt concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          CARTER, PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Three months after a vehicle titled in his name was forfeited under the Illinois drug laws, claimant, Michael Sheland, filed a petition for relief from judgment, seeking the return of the vehicle. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the petition. Sheland appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that (1) the vehicle had been used to facilitate the receipt or possession of heroin and was subject to forfeiture under the drug laws, (2) Sheland was not an innocent owner of the vehicle and was not protected from forfeiture under the innocent-owner exemption, and (3) the forfeiture of the vehicle under the facts of the present case did not constitute an excessive fine under the eighth amendment. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 On February 29, 2016, John Folder and Wendell Stephens were found unconscious in the front seat of a 2014 GMC Sierra truck at the intersection of Griswold Street and Lincoln Avenue in Peoria, Illinois. The engine of the vehicle was running, and the vehicle was in gear. Folder was in the driver's seat, and Stephens was in the passenger seat. Syringes and traces of heroin were found in the vehicle. The title to the vehicle was in the name of the claimant, Michael Sheland.

         ¶ 4 Folder and Stephens were transported to the hospital. At the hospital, Folder was questioned by police. Folder told police that he and Stephens had been at a bar in Pekin, Illinois, when they decided to go to a location in Peoria to get some heroin. After obtaining the heroin, Folder and Stephens used the heroin inside the vehicle. Folder provided a urine sample at the hospital, which showed the presence of a heroin metabolite in his system. Folder was later arrested for driving under the influence of drugs (DUI). He was not charged with possession of a controlled substance.

         ¶ 5 In May 2016, the State filed a complaint for forfeiture of the vehicle pursuant to section 505(a)(3) of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act (Substances Act) (720 ILCS 570/505(a)(3) (West 2016)) and section 9 of the Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act (Forfeiture Act) (725 ILCS 150/9 (West 2016)). In the complaint, the State alleged that the vehicle was used or was intended to be used to facilitate the receipt or possession of heroin in violation of the Substances Act.

         ¶ 6 Sheland filed a verified claim in the trial court, stating that he was the owner of the vehicle, disputing the State's attempt to obtain a forfeiture judgment, and seeking the return of the vehicle. Sheland later filed a verified answer and affirmative defense (collectively referred to as the answer) to the complaint. In the answer, Sheland asserted that the vehicle was not subject to forfeiture because it had not been used to facilitate the possession or consumption of heroin and that he was exempt from forfeiture because he was an innocent owner of the vehicle. As required by statute (id. § 6(C)(2)), bail in the amount of $2000 cash was posted. The bail money was posted by Folder.

         ¶ 7 In August 2016, a bench trial was held on the complaint for forfeiture. At the beginning of the trial, the parties submitted a written stipulation, which stated as follows:

"On February 29, 2016, John Folder drove the vehicle at issue, the 2014 GMC VIN# 3GTU2VEC7EG363426, to the Menard's in Pekin, Illinois to pick up fencing materials. He purchased the materials and they were placed in the bed of the truck.
Later in the day, Folder and Wendell Stephens drove to a bar in Pekin, Illinois. After leaving the bar, Folder drove them in the 2014 GMC to a location in south Peoria, Illinois with the purpose of purchasing heroin. Stephens purchased heroin, and the two used the heroin while they were inside the 2014 GMC.
Around 5:15pm on February 29, 2016 Peoria Police Officer Roger Martin responded to the intersection of S. Griswold St. and W. Lincoln Ave. in Peoria, Illinois on the report of a male slumped behind the wheel. Officer Martin found the 2014 GMC in the intersection with Folder unconscious in the driver's seat and Stephens unconscious in the passenger seat."

         ¶ 8 After the stipulation was admitted, the State rested its case-in-chief. Sheland moved for a directed finding, and the trial court reserved its ruling on that issue. The bench trial went forward and Sheland presented his case-in-chief.

         ¶ 9 John Folder testified that he lived in Havana, Illinois, and that Sheland lived with him. Sheland was the son of Folder's ex-girlfriend. According to Folder, Sheland was the owner of the subject vehicle (also referred to as the truck). On the day in question, Folder used Sheland's truck so that he could pick up some fencing materials at Menards. Folder drove the truck from Havana to the Menards store in Pekin, Illinois. Wendell Stephens went with him. Folder did not plan to use heroin that day and did not tell Sheland that he was going to use the truck to violate any law. After arriving at the store, Folder purchased the fencing materials, and the materials were loaded into the back of the truck.

         ¶ 10 After Folder and Stephens left Menards, they went to a tavern in Manito, Illinois, and had lunch. From there, they traveled to Peoria at Stephens's request. Folder did not know why Stephens wanted to go to Peoria. In Peoria, Folder and Stephens stopped at a person's house, and Stephens went inside. Folder did not know that Stephens was going to buy heroin inside the house. Folder did not remember anything after that point and testified that he had never used heroin before. Folder acknowledged, however, that he used heroin later that day (the incident at issue) and that he was arrested for DUI but stated that he did not remember doing any of those things.

         ¶ 11 On cross-examination, Folder denied telling Peoria police officer Scott Hulse that he and Stephens had discussed going to Peoria so that they could get something to get a "buzz." Folder admitted that he had used the truck on prior occasions and stated that he had purchased the truck for Sheland for all of the work Sheland had done for Folder and for Sheland to transport Folder from time to time. Folder paid approximately $15, 000 in cash for the vehicle. The title for the vehicle was in Sheland's name. Folder paid for the insurance on the vehicle, and Sheland would pay him back by working off the money. According to Folder, due to his own physical condition and the medications he was taking (or had been taking), he did not drive ...


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