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United States v. $393

United States District Court, D. Colorado

August 22, 2014

$393, 550.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, Defendant.



This matter is before the Court on Claimant Seung Yu's Motion to Suppress. (Doc. # 20.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.


On December 19, 2012, Aurora Police Department officers responded to a domestic violence complaint at the Aurora Town Center Mall. The complainant indicated there had been a fight between a man and woman in the Revolution clothing store ("Revolution"), and that the two were now in the mall's parking lot with mall security officers.

Officer Aragon observed several red marks and scratches on the woman's face, but she declined medical attention. She told that Officer Aragon she worked at Revolution and that the owner of the store is Claimant, who was also her former boyfriend. She reported that the two got into an argument and when she tried to leave, Claimant grabbed her by the face and threw her down on the floor. Before she was able to get up, Claimant grabbed her face three times. Meanwhile, Officer DeLuca and Sergeants Graham and Shaker interviewed Claimant, who admitted to Sergeant Graham that he put his hand on his ex-girlfriend's face and pushed her down. Based on these statements and her injuries, the officers placed Claimant under arrest.

During a search of Claimant, Officer DeLuca found a plastic baggie containing 1.6 grams of marijuana in Claimant's front pocket. Claimant also had a black bag, which he told the officers contained approximately $300, 000 to $400, 000 in cash. Claimant explained that the money was from his store safe and was savings from the last seven years he had been in business. The officers transported Claimant to the Aurora Detention Center, and he was charged with assault, battery, and harassment in Aurora Municipal Court.

The black bag containing the money was taken to the Aurora Police Department, counted, and then turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), where a drug detection dog positively alerted to it, indicating the presence of a controlled substance. DEA Task Force Officer Wittenborn spoke with two officers who worked at the Mall. They reported that on two or three occasions, they smelled "the odor of raw marijuana" while in the hallway behind Revolution.

Following an investigation, including another interview with Claimant and his ex-girlfriend, the government instituted the instant case for civil forfeiture of the money found in the black bag, ultimately determined to be $393, 550.00 in currency ("Defendant Currency"[2]). In a Verified Complaint, the government alleges that Defendant Currency is money furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance, proceeds traceable to an exchange of controlled substances, and money used or intended to be used to facilitate a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 801.

On March 26, 2013, in Aurora Municipal Court, Claimant moved to suppress statements and evidence obtained during his initial contact with police. The court held a hearing on the matter, at which the city attorney and defense counsel presented and examined witnesses and presented argument. The court issued an oral ruling from the bench, denying the motion. (Doc. # 32-1.) On July 23, 2013, Claimant pleaded guilty to an amended charge: threats. (Doc. # 22-3.)

On December 18, 2013, Claimant filed the instant motion, asking this Court to suppress statements and evidence obtained during his contact with police on December 19, 2012. Claimant argues that mall security officers were agents of the government, Claimant's stop and detention was not supported by reasonable suspicion or probable cause, he did not consent to the search of his bag, the warrantless search of his bag was unreasonable and unsupported by a recognized exception to the warrant requirement, evidence obtained via his detention and search are fruits of the poisonous tree, and all of his statements should be suppressed. (Doc. # 20.) The government responded to the motion, arguing that because Claimant previously moved to suppress this evidence in municipal court, and that motion was denied, he is collaterally estopped from relitigating the issue before this Court. (Doc. # 22.)


The Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions ("Supplemental Rules") are part of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and govern procedures in civil forfeiture actions. United States v. 51 Pieces of Real Property, Roswell, New Mexico, 17 F.3d 1306, 1308 n. 2 (10th Cir. 1994). Pursuant to Supplemental Rule G(8)(a), "a party with standing to contest the lawfulness of the seizure may move to suppress use of the property as evidence." Forfeiture proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature and therefore the exclusionary rule applies. One 1958 Plymouth Sedan v. Com. of Pa., 380 U.S. 693, 702 (1965).

As a threshold matter, the Court must determine whether Claimant is collaterally estopped from relitigating the suppression issues in this proceeding, having already asserted that the municipal court should suppress statements and evidence gathered at the time of his arrest. The Tenth Circuit has recognized that in a civil forfeiture action, the doctrine of collateral estoppel prevents a claimant from raising constitutional issues that have been litigated in state court. See United States v. One Parcel of Real Prop. Known as 16614 Cayuga Rd., 69 F.Appx. 915, 918 (10th Cir. 2003) (order and judgment) (district court properly denied claimant's motion to suppress where he previously raised Fourth Amendment claims in state criminal prosecution). Although the government argued that Claimant is collaterally estopped from relitigating these issues, Claimant did not file a reply brief or otherwise assert his position on this issue.

The preclusive effect of a state court judgment is governed by state law. United States v. U.S. Currency in the Amount of $228, 536.00, 895 F.2d 908, 917-18 (2d Cir. 1990) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1738 (1982); Marrese v. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 470 U.S. 373, 380-81 (1985); Cullen v. Margiotta, 811 F.2d 698, 732 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 483 U.S. 1021 (1987)). Under Colorado law, ...

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