By: Colin Campbell
To most of us, the definition of money seems rather simple and straightforward. However, that was not the situation for the Court of Appeals of Maryland, which was called upon to determine whether bank account assets are money or personal property under Maryland’s Forfeiture Statute.
In Bottini v. Department of Finance, Montgomery County, Montgomery County Police arrested Gianpaolo Bottini for CDS possession with the intent to distribute. While on bail, Bottini emptied his two bank accounts, totaling $64,388.33, and placed the sum of the assets into his sister’s account. His sister then opened a new bank account in her own name and deposited the entirety of the assets into this new account. Upon conviction of Bottini, the Department of Finance of Montgomery County sought forfeiture of the assets in the account, claiming it was money resulting from Bottini’s illegal drug distribution. Bottini’s sister objected, asserting that the assets were intangible personal property, not money, thus the county request was untimely. Under Maryland’s Forfeiture Statute, CP § 12-102, requests for intangible personal property must be filed within 90-days of seizure. Since the county did not file its complaint for forfeiture within 90-days, the request would have been untimely and should have been dismissed.
The Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge began by stating his personal understanding of what constitutes money. According to the circuit court, the legislature intended money to be more than just fungible cash but also assets kept in a bank account. The circuit court further stated that while the legislature has not defined money, the court does not believe it is necessary to do so. Furthermore, the circuit court found that since the assets were transferred to Bottini’s sister to pay for his attorney’s fees, and not as a gift or loan, that the funds were Bottini’s and subject to forfeiture. The circuit court held in favor of the county and issued an order for the $63,891.83 to be forfeited, finding that the assets were the proceeds of illegal drug transactions subject to forfeiture.
Defendants appealed the circuit court decision and in an unreported opinion the court of special appeals upheld the circuit court’s holding. However, one judge dissented, finding that the bank account assets were “a contractual interest, claim, or right—i.e., intangible personal property—and that, as such, the complaint for forfeiture was untimely filed.” The defendants filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which was granted.
Defendants argue that since bank account assets do not have a physical location and are only available by demand out of the bank’s assets, they are not money as intended by the forfeiture statute. They argued that the forfeiture statute intends money to mean physical currency such as bills and coins. The county argues that the forfeiture statute refers to physical money and wealth generally. Furthermore, a bank account reflects the physical money available to the account holder and thus is money under the statute.
The court of appeals began by looking at the Merriam-Webster and Black’s Law Dictionary definitions of money. Both sources defined money as physical cash and assets or wealth that can be converted to cash, such as the assets contained in a bank account. The court further noted that the physical assets portion of the forfeiture statute did not have a heading for bank accounts. Thus, the court of appeals found in favor of the county and affirmed the definition that bank accounts are money under the statute. First, the court noted that this holding is consistent with the commonly held understanding of what constitutes money, and then referenced past holdings in which it had used the term “money” when referring to bank account assets. Next, the court referenced that the legislative history of the forfeiture statute supported this definition since the intent of the statute was to encompass all funds resulting from illegal drug manufacture and distribution. The court ultimately upheld the trial court’s finding that the county’s request for forfeiture was timely, and as such the account assets should be forfeited to the county.
The dissent argued that the county was not seeking forfeiture of the defendant’s money but rather their bank account, which housed their money. As such the property at issue was a contractual interest, or intangible personal property, subject to a filing limitation of 90-days after seizure or 1 year from the disposition of the criminal charges. Since the bank account had been seized by the county in April of 2012 and petitioned for in August of 2013, the county petition was untimely.
This case establishes a bright line rule that bank account assets are money under the forfeiture statute subject to the 90-day post-criminal conviction filing date. A rule making the financial gains resulting from drug distribution easier to be forfeited to the state. However, the legislature should still take steps to define money in the forfeiture statute to avoid future possible issues if a similar action were to concern the assets of an investment account.
 Bottini v. Dep’t. of Fin., 450 Md.177, 147 A.3d 371 (2016).
 Id. at 181, 147 A.3d at 374.
 Id. at 182, 147 A.3d at 374.
 Id. at 183, 147 A.3d at 375.
 Bottini, 450 Md. at 183, 147 A.3d at 375.
 Id. at 184, 147 A.3d at 375-76.
 Id. at 184, 147 A.3d at 376.
 Id. at 184, 147 A.3d at 375-76.
 Id. at 185, 147 A.3d at 376.
 Bottini, 450 Md. at 186, 147 A.3d at 377.
 Id. at 189, 147 A.3d at 379.
 Bottini, 450 Md. at 189, 147 A.3d at 379.
 Id. at 195-96, 147 A.3d at 382-83.
 Id. at 197, 147 A.3d at 383.
 Id. at 198, 147 A.3d at 384.
 Bottini, 450 Md. at 198, 147 A.3d at 384.
 Id. at 202-03, 147 A.3d at 386-87.
 Id. at 207, 147 A.3d at 389.
 Id. at 208, 147 A.3d at 390.
 Id. at 211, 147 A.3d at 391-92.