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Forfeiture Against Home Valid in Sexual Exploitation Case

Tennessee law allows for the forfeiture of property used to facilitate the commission of crimes. Judicial forfeiture is a civil proceeding against property, though it typically arises out of circumstances which are also the subject of a criminal proceeding against a person. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. Sprunger, E2011-02573-COA-R3-CV (Tenn.App. 8-26-2013), the Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court ruling seizing a home where the Defendant had operated a computer he used to commit the offense of sexual exploitation of a minor.

In the Sprunger case, the Defendant had taken his computer to a repair technician after the Defendant believed the computer had been disabled by a virus. Upon examination of data stored on the computer, the technician discovered numerous image files of child pornography. The technician contacted the police, who examined the computer and obtained a search warrant for the Defendant's home. Though the search of the home did not reveal any additional images, investigators were able to confirm the computer had been used in a room of the home. The Defendant was eventually convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor and received a prison sentence of eight years. In addition, forfeiture proceedings were brought against the home, which was already in foreclosure. The mortgage lender recovered the balance of the home loan and the state recovered the remaining money from the foreclosure sale.

The Defendant appealed the ruling, arguing, among other things, that the statute did not apply to real property and had not previously been applied to forfeit real property in cases of sexual exploitation. The Court of Appeals rejected all the Defendant's claims, noting the statute does say it applies to real property and the fact that the Defendant did not find any cases where it had been used against real property in an exploitation case does not mean it cannot be so used. The Court concluded the plain language allows for the forfeiture of real property.

For more information on judicial forfeiture, contact Hindman & Associates.

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