City of Sunnyside v. Gonzalez (Majority)Annotate this Case
While driving in Sunnyside, Washington, petitioner Andreas Gonzalez was stopped for speeding by Sergeant Scott Bailey. Gonzalez was driving a BMW with California license plates. Although Gonzalez had a Washington driver's license, the car was registered in California in another person's name. Bailey determined that Gonzalez's license was suspended and therefore placed him under arrest. Bailey became suspicious that Gonzalez was involved in criminal activity. Officer Skip Lemmon arrived with his canine partner to assist in the impound process. Gonzalez consented to a search of the car, which turned up a "[s]treet level amount, user amount" of cocaine and $5,940. The officers suspected that both the car and the money were connected to an illegal drug transaction, and seized both the car and money, and the city of Sunnyside (City) sought forfeiture. Gonzalez had no prior arrests or convictions for any drug-related activity, although he did ultimately plead guilty in superior court to one charge of possession of a controlled substance for the cocaine that was discovered in the car. Gonzalez testified at the forfeiture hearing that several days earlier, he had gone to California to visit relatives who offered t sell the BMW to Gonzalez, who wanted to buy it but did not have enough money with him. Gonzalez returned to Washington only two days before Gonzalez was pulled over, and the $5,940 was intended to pay for the car. The issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether there was substantial evidence that the car and money were connected to drug manufacturing or distribution such that they were subject to forfeiture. The Sunnyside Municipal Court, acting as a hearing examiner, said yes. The Yakima County Superior Court, acting in its appellate capacity, said no and reversed. The Court of Appeals reversed and reinstated the forfeiture order. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, vacated the forfeiture order, and granted Gonzalez's request for attorney fees.