The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anne E. Covey, Judge
BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge HONORABLE RENEE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge
William Jackson (Jackson) appeals pro se from the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas' (trial court) June 9, 2011 order directing that $8,603.00 in United States (U.S.) currency be forfeited to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Commonwealth) pursuant to the Controlled Substances Forfeitures Act (Forfeiture Act).*fn1 The issues before this Court are: (1) whether the trial court violated Jackson's rights by ordering forfeiture of Jackson's property after he was acquitted of the drug possession charges; (2) whether the trial court erred by denying Jackson the opportunity to be present at the forfeiture hearing; (3) whether the trial court erred by ordering forfeiture of property obtained by illegal search and seizure; and, (4) whether forfeiture was against the weight of the credible evidence. We vacate and remand.
On June 28, 2009, at approximately 8:15 p.m., Philadelphia police officers stopped Jackson for failing to stop his vehicle at a red light. Jackson's passenger, who was in possession of marijuana, was arrested and placed in the patrol car. Because Jackson could not produce his driver's license or the vehicle's registration, the officers declared a live stop,*fn2 and asked Jackson to step out of the car while it was inventoried. The officer noticed bulges in Jackson's cargo pants, which Jackson advised was approximately $8,500.00 in cash. The officer removed $8,603.00 from Jackson's pocket. Jackson was handcuffed and placed into the cruiser with the passenger. After Jackson and the passenger began arguing and Jackson was observed wiggling around, the passenger was removed from the cruiser. When the officers later removed Jackson from the cruiser, they observed 93 packets of heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana where he had been sitting. Jackson was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. After a preliminary hearing, Jackson was held for trial. According to the parties' briefs, a trial was held on July 22, 2010, and Jackson was found not guilty.
Jackson subsequently filed a return of property motion, and the Commonwealth filed a petition for forfeiture of the money. By July 7, 2009 letter to Jackson's home at 6229 West Jefferson Street, Philadelphia, the Commonwealth notified Jackson that the Commonwealth filed the forfeiture petition, and he had the right to respond. The letter also stated that a hearing was to be held on August 27, 2009, and that he must appear or risk forfeiture of his property. According to the Commonwealth's brief, Jackson "responded to the Commonwealth's forfeiture petition by filing a counseled Answer dated September 24, 2009, and pro se answers to the Commonwealth's interrogatories dated October 4, 2010 . . . ."*fn3
Commonwealth Br. at 20. After several continuances, a forfeiture hearing was held on June 9, 2011.*fn4 Jackson, who was then incarcerated for an unrelated offense, did not attend the hearing. His grandmother, Lillie Jackson, appeared at the hearing. Following the hearing, the trial court ordered forfeiture of Jackson's money. Jackson appealed to this Court.*fn5
"The goal of the Forfeiture Act is to eliminate economic incentives of drug-related activity and thereby deter such activity." Commonwealth v. Heater, 899 A.2d 1126, 1132 (Pa. Super. 2006). Accordingly, Section 6801(a)(6)(i) of the Forfeiture Act provides, in pertinent part, that the following are subject to forfeiture:
(A) Money . . . furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance in violation of The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act[*fn6 (the Controlled Substance Act)], and all proceeds traceable to such an exchange.
(B) Money . . . used or intended to be used to facilitate any violation of [the Controlled Substance Act].
42 Pa.C.S. § 6801(a)(6)(i)(A), (B).
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated:
To meet its burden, the Commonwealth must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a nexus exists between the money and a violation of the Controlled Substance Act. A preponderance of the evidence is tantamount to a 'more likely than not' standard. Moreover, the Commonwealth need not produce evidence directly linking seized property to illegal activity in order to establish the requisite nexus between seized property and unlawful activity. Although illegal drugs are often present at the time of seizure, there is no requirement that such drugs be present; instead, circumstantial evidence may suffice to establish a party's involvement in drug activity. Furthermore, for property to be deemed forfeitable, neither a criminal prosecution nor a conviction is required.
Commonwealth v. $6,425.00 Seized From Esquilin, 583 Pa. 544, 555-56, 880 A.2d 523, 529-30 (2005) (footnote and citations omitted). Section 6801(a)(6)(ii) of the Forfeiture Act, specifically provides, however, that "money . . . found in close proximity to controlled substances possessed in violation of [the Controlled Substance Act] shall be rebuttably presumed to be proceeds derived from the selling of a ...