By all appearances, Hermenegildo Godoy Bueno was having a really bad day on May 6, 2008, according to the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling today in a civil forfeiture case styled State of Texas v. $90,235 and 2000 Black Lincoln Navigator.
On that March day, an El Paso sheriff’s deputy pulled over Bueno’s 2000 Lincoln Navigator and noticed a back pack and a tote bag on the rear floor board of the SUV. “Bueno said they contained his son’s clothes” according to the decision. After Bueno refused the deputy’s request for consent to search the vehicle, the deputy called for a K-9 dog that alerted positively for the odor of narcotics on the Navigator’s exterior. After the deputy searched the vehicle, he found six plastic bags containing bundles of cash totaling $90,235. The K-9 dog also alerted for the odor of narcotics on the money. Bueno later told a detective that the money was partial payment for a ranch he sold and he was delivering the money as the final payment on an El Paso service station he purchased. While Bueno was not arrested, the deputies seized the money and his car and the State instituted civil forfeiture proceedings in state court.
Bueno answered the suit, asserted that he owned the property and filed a motion summary judgment. He attached his own affidavit to the motion asserting that “My vehicle was acquired legally and lawfully. The money represents partial payment on the sale of my ranch.”
The trial court granted Bueno’s summary judgment motion, as did El Paso’s 8th Court of Appeals ― a ruling the State appealed to the high court. On appeal, Bueno asserted that there was not enough evidence to support a reasonable belief that his SUV and his money was connected to “illegal drug activities.” However, that assertion was not enough for the lower courts to grant summary judgment, according to an opinion by Justice Phil Johnson. “Only if Bueno conclusively proved that none of the officers has such a belief would the burden shift to the State to respond and raise a material fact question about whether they did,” Johnston wrote. “We conclude that he did not do so.” And the affidavit was not enough to prove that the officers lacked a reasonable belief either, Johnson wrote. “The affidavit certainly does not conclusively prove that none of them did,” Johnson wrote, remanding the case back to the 8th Court.
―By John Council