Unanimous Ruling Finds That Prosecutors Have Flexibility on Forfeiture Orders
The United States Supreme Court recently held that federal courts can issue criminal forfeiture orders outside the prescribed deadline set by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, resolving a circuit split on the issue. Although the Rules require that the courts enter forfeiture orders before sentencing to allow the defendant to submit revisions or modifications, the recent Court’s ruling effectively states that this rule is not absolute and allows flexibility by the government to bring forfeiture orders at a later date. In the case before the Court, Louis McIntosh was resentenced two years after his initial sentencing and ordered to forfeit $28,000, as well as a BMW that was not part of the original sentence. While McIntosh argued that the BMW forfeiture was improper because the government had failed to ask the trial court for a forfeiture order over two years ago, the Supreme Court disagreed. The deadline in the rules was interpreted as being intended “as a spur to prompt action, not as a bar to tardy completion,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her opinion for the court.
Civil Forfeiture Procedure Leads Pro-Se Litigant to Miss Deadline
Controversy over the proper procedure is not confined to just criminal forfeitures, as the recent case of a woman who had $8,000 seized through civil asset forfeiture who was initially ruled to have missed a filing deadline and thus lost by default. Cristal Starling had her vehicle and money seized after a warrant was executed on her home in Rochester in relation to her then-boyfriend who was believed to be drug dealing. When she was able to get her vehicle returned and no charges came from the executed warrant, Ms. Starling believed she had also completed and provided the necessary notices and paperwork to have her money returned as well. However, she had missed a deadline in federal court challenging the forfeiture and the money was permanently seized by the government until the Second (2nd) Circuit Court of Appeals found that her error should be reviewed at a lower standard than the district court initially relied on, noting that the petty nature and perverse profit incentives of civil asset forfeiture “magnifies the importance of deciding such cases on the merits rather than by default” in its ruling. Although this ensures Ms. Starling and others like her have their respective day in court to litigate any error, it by no means constitutes an assured victory of the return of their assets. Many potential claimants have lost the ability to contest forfeiture actions by missing mandatory deadlines. In fact, it is common that money and vehicles are forfeited administratively, meaning without involvement of the courts.
Anyone facing civil or criminal asset forfeiture should hire an experienced attorney who can preserve a claimant’s ability to contest a forfeiture action and fight for the return of the property.The post Supreme Court Refuses to Set Hard Deadline in Criminal Forfeitures first appeared on Darryl A. Goldberg.