Prolific Marijuana Grower Loses his Booty, LIVINGSTON, June 23, 2017 - On June 22, 2017, the Ninth Court of Appeals ruled that the Polk County District Attorney’s office properly seized and forfeited more than $100,000.00 from a criminal defendant. Prior to the forfeiture, Defendant, James William Vang, pled guilty to the felony offense of possession of marijuana and received a probated sentence of seven years. In May of 2016, a contested hearing regarding the forfeiture took place in the 411th District Court. Lieutenant, Andy Lowrie, with the Polk County Sheriff’s Department testified that a search of a residence located at 109 Hillbilly Heaven was conducted pursuant to a search warrant. The search yielded marijuana, drug paraphernalia, a large sum of cash and a 12-guage shot gun. According to Lowrie, one of the rooms in the residence appeared to have been used as a marijuana grow room. Documents and personal effects found in the residence linked it to the Defendant and owner of record, James William Vang.
A search of a trailer on the property yielded more marijuana, a drug ledger and a closet that was being used as a grow room. A search of the garage revealed two rooms with grow operations that contained approximately 170 marijuana plants. Lowrie further stated that the residence, trailer and detached garage were all within a hundred feet of each other. Cash, totaling $102, 450.00 was found as well. A portion of the cash was found in a safe located in the kitchen of the residence and the remainder of the cash was found in a safe located in the bedroom of the residence which was hidden in an air-conditioning vent. The money in the bedroom safe consisted of $90,100.00 which was packaged in 4 bundles, three of which were cellophane-wrapped.
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Assistant District Attorney, Tommy L. Coleman, presented evidence at the forfeiture hearing from the Texas Workforce Commission that indicated the Defendant had no reported income or wages. Coleman also pointed out that the Defendant stipulated to the evidence in the underlying criminal case, judicially confessed to the offense and pled guilty to the felony offense of possession of marijuana before being placed on probation. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Presiding Judge found that the $102,450.00 in U.S. Currency and the real property located at 109 Hillbilly Heaven along with any residences and buildings thereon, were contraband and ordered it forfeited to the State pursuant to Chapter 59 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
The Defendant appealed the judge’s ruling to the Ninth Court, arguing among other things, that the cash was illegally seized by the Sherriff’s Department. The Court of Appeals affirmed that the Sheriff’s Department complied with the applicable law, the District Attorney’s office met its burden of proof and established by a preponderance of the evidence that the property and the cash was subject to forfeiture. “It is reassuring that the Ninth Court ruled in our favor”, stated Coleman. “Despite recent efforts to restrict asset forfeiture, much of which is based on misinformation, this is a prime example of how the forfeiture statute is intended to work. At the end of the day, the criminal defendant is denied the proceeds of his criminal activity and the cash can now be used by law enforcement for training, the purchase of much-needed equipment and to continue to fight the criminal element in Polk County”, Coleman added.
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