MOUNT VERNON – The Fifth District Appellate Court has upheld Madison County Associate Judge Jennifer Hightower in a case involving the forfeiture of a vehicle.
Defendant Rakayne Cleaves had appealed a decision concerning a 2006 Jeep Commander that he says his grandfather, Finis Cleaves, left for him upon his death. In a decision filed Aug. 29, however, Justice Thomas Welch, with Justices Judy Cates and John Barberis concurring, affirmed the decision.
According to the decision, Rakayne Cleaves claims that his grandfather left the Jeep to him to be claimed upon his graduation from high school. However, on June 14, 2014, the vehicle was seized when Rakayne’s father Antwan Cleaves was arrested for allegedly stealing scrap metal, using the Jeep in question to do so.
At the time of his arrest, Antwan Cleaves told the police that the vehicle belonged to him, the order states. Police sent notice of the vehicle’s forfeiture to Finis Cleaves - still the official owner of the vehicle - and Antwan on Aug. 7, 2014, allowing them 20 days to respond. Antwan Cleaves did not file an answer, but Rakayne Cleaves responded to the notice in June 2015, stating that he was the legal owner of the Jeep.
In July 2015, the state filed a motion to strike Rakayne Cleaves’ response, arguing that it was untimely and for a lack of standing. Four months after that, the state filed another motion, this time for partial summary judgment asking that the court terminate any rights Rakayne Cleaves might have to the Jeep because it had been used as part of a criminal offense. Rakayne Cleaves filed his own motion for summary judgment asking that the court award him the Jeep.
The court’s decision came in February 2016, in favor of the state. The court granted the state’s motion to strike Rakayne Cleaves' late response and its motion for partial summary judgment. Rakayne Cleaves appealed the decision.
Upon de novo review of the case, the appellate court agreed with all of the lower court’s findings. Rakayne Cleaves had argued that his answer to the forfeiture notice was timely because he had not actually been served with the notice.
The appellate court found, however, that “The state had no reason to identify Rakayne as a potential claimant of the Jeep because Finis was the owner of record both at the time of the offense and seizure and when the forfeiture action was filed. Thus, notice was properly given to the owner of record (Finis) and the only other identified interest holder and driver of the Jeep (Antwan),” according to Welch’s written decision.
The appellate court was also not persuaded by Rakayne Cleaves’ argument that the circuit court was wrong to grant the state’s motion for summary judgment. Welch wrote that the state was entitled to that judgment because it had shown that the Jeep had been used in the commission of a crime and that the person who claimed to own the vehicle at that time (Antwan) knew that it was being used as part of a crime.
Finally, the appellate court rejected Rakayne Cleaves’ claim that the circuit court should not have denied his own motion for summary judgment. Welch pointed out that Rakayne Cleaves did not show any genuine issues of material fact to entitle him to that judgment. Rather, the court had already determined that the circuit court was correct to strike Rakayne Cleaves' answer as untimely and that at no point had Rakayne Cleaves demonstrated that he was ever actually the owner of the Jeep or exercised any control over it.