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PETITION CHRISTINE MCLAUGHLIN FOR RETURN PROPERTY -- ONE FORD BRONCO. APPEAL CHRISTINE MCLAUGHLIN (10/15/87)

filed: October 15, 1987.

IN RE PETITION OF CHRISTINE MCLAUGHLIN FOR RETURN OF PROPERTY -- ONE FORD BRONCO. APPEAL OF CHRISTINE MCLAUGHLIN


Appeal from the Order entered July 30, 1986 in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Criminal Division, at Misc. No. 340, April 1986.

COUNSEL

John P. Yatsko, Norristown, for appellant.

Olszewski, Del Sole and Hoffman, JJ. Olszewski, J., files a concurring and dissenting opinion.

Author: Del Sole

[ 367 Pa. Super. Page 61]

We consider an appeal from an Order denying Appellant's petitions for return of property. The property in question is a 1978 Ford Bronco which was seized by the Commonwealth incident to the arrest of one Paul Massad for possession of marijuana.

Appellant grounds this appeal on two counts of error allegedly committed by the hearing court. First, Appellant posits that the evidence presented during a hearing on the petitions was insufficient to substantiate the forfeiture. Second, it is argued that the hearing judge erred in failing to uphold Emil Massad's bailor's claim to the forfeited vehicle.

In the instant case, the Bronco was seized by the Commonwealth pursuant to the Forfeiture and Condemnation of Vehicles Act, 35 P.S. ยงยง 831.1. -- 831.5. Section 831.1 of the Act provides:

[ 367 Pa. Super. Page 62]

Any wagon, buggy, motor vehicle, water or air craft or other vehicle or conveyance in which is stored, contained Page 62} or transported any narcotics or drugs, the possession or transportation of which is in violation of any law of this Commonwealth, shall be forfeited to the Commonwealth. . . .

(Emphasis supplied).

Forfeiture proceedings are civil in form, yet quasi-criminal in character. During such proceedings, it is the Commonwealth's burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the vehicle was used in the proscribed manner. The vehicle's connection with the crime need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Petition of Maglisco, 341 Pa. Super. 525, 531, 491 A.2d 1381, 1384 (1985).

The forfeiture of the Ford Bronco stems from an investigation of Paul Massad by the Montgomery County Narcotics Enforcement Team. Detective Raymond Kuter of that unit negotiated with Mr. Massad for the purchase of an unknown quantity of marijuana, (N.T., 15). On the evening of the arrest, Detective Kuter had made arrangements with Mr. Massad to meet at the Casa Maria restaurant, located in King of Prussia, to effectuate the transaction. (N.T., 16). The restaurant's parking lot was under surveillance by members of the narcotics unit who observed Mr. Massad's arrival in the Ford Bronco. At the time, Mr. Massad approached a black Volkswagon Rabbit, which was already parked in the lot, and conversed with one of two unidentified males of that vehicle who later joined Mr. Massad in the Bronco. Eventually, the unidentified male left the Bronco, climbed back into the Volkswagon, and exited the parking lot. (N.T., 17).

Detective Kuter later entered the Bronco and was shown a brown paper bag containing one half pound of marijuana. When asked where he viewed ...


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