Failure to Timely Initiate Forfeiture Proceedings
The interpretation of a statute is a question of law, which we review de novo. State Comp. Fund v. Super. Ct., 190 Ariz. 371, 374-75, 948 P.2d 499, 502-03 (App. 1997).
If the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, this court must give it effect. Lewis v. Arizona Dep't of Econ. Sec., 186 Ariz. 610, 614, 925 P.2d 751, 755 (App. 1996). In doing so, "we must read the statute as a whole and give meaningful operation to each of its provisions." Ruiz v. Hull, 191 Ariz. 441, 450, P35, 957 P.2d 984, 993 (1998).
Section 13-4305(A) (Supp. 1999) governs the seizure of property for forfeiture. Property subject to forfeiture may be seized through court process, including issuance of a seizure warrant, or without court process, such as the initial seizure here, as part of a search incident to arrest.
"Seizure for forfeiture" is defined as the seizure of property by a peace officer coupled with an assertion by the seizing agency or an attorney for the state that the property is subject to forfeiture. A.R.S. 13-4301(9) (Supp. 1999).
The state has various options available to pursue forfeiture under the statutory scheme once property has been seized for forfeiture, including uncontested civil forfeiture, judicial in rem and in personam forfeiture proceedings, as well as provisional remedies. A.R.S. 13-1409 (1989), -1410, -1411, -1412 (Supp. 1999).
Section 13-4308(B) governs the commencement of forfeiture proceedings and provides certain deadlines by which the state must act:
If the state fails to initiate forfeiture proceedings against property seized for forfeiture by notice of pending forfeiture within sixty days after its seizure for forfeiture, or fails to pursue forfeiture of such property on which a timely claim has been properly filed by filing a complaint, information or indictment pursuant to 13-4311 or 13-4312 within sixty days after notice of pending forfeiture or, if uncontested forfeiture has been made available, within sixty days after a declaration of forfeiture, whichever is later, such property shall be released from its seizure for forfeiture on the request of an owner or interest holder, pending further proceedings pursuant to this chapter, which shall be commenced within seven years after actual discovery of the last act giving rise to forfeiture.
The language of A.R.S. section 13-4308(B) is clear and unambiguous and we must apply its terms as written. It does not allow the court to excuse the state's failure to timely initiate forfeiture proceedings for "oversight." When the state did not act in a timely fashion, and appellant made a request that the property be released, the trial court was obliged under the statute to release the property from its seizure for forfeiture