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United States v. $114

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 1, 2018

$114, 700.00 in United States Currency, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on two Recommendations by United States Magistrate Judge Gordon P. Gallagher (Doc. ## 45, 46), wherein he recommends that the Court deny the Claimant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 23) and strike the Claimant's Twelfth Affirmative Defense (Doc. # 15 at 8-9.) The Recommendations are incorporated herein by reference. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).


         The Recommendations advised the parties that specific written objections were due within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy of the Recommendation. (Doc. # 45 at 1, n.2.) The Claimant timely filed his objection within fourteen days, challenging both Recommendations entirely. (Doc. # 47.) The Court is thus required to determine the disputed issues de novo. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). In so doing, the Court “may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition[.]” Id.


         The Government filed its Complaint for forfeiture in rem alleging that Claimant's $114, 700.00 in currency constitutes proceeds traceable to narcotics trafficking in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). (Doc. # 1.) To prevail at trial, the Government must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture. 18 U.S.C. § 983(c). In other words, the Government must prove that it is more likely than not that the proceeds are traceable to an exchange of controlled substances. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 371-72 (1970) (Harlan, J., concurring) (explaining the preponderance of the evidence standard).

         Claimant filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12, alleging that both 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) and 18 U.S.C. § 983(c) violate the United States Constitution under the Due Process Clause. (Doc. # 23.) Claimant raises the same constitutional argument as an affirmative defense in his Answer. (Doc. # 15 at 8-9.) In both instances, Claimant argues that the forfeiture statute is unenforceable, requiring either complete dismissal of this case or, at the very least, the application of a heightened burden. (Doc. ## 15 at 8-9; 47 at 1.)

         Magistrate Judge Gallagher disagreed with Claimaint's arguments, recommending instead that Claimant's Motion to Dismiss be denied and his affirmative defense be stricken. (Doc. # 45.) Having reviewed the issues de novo, the Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Gallagher with respect to both Recommendations.

         III. CONSTITUTIONALITY OF 18 U.S.C. § 983(c)

         The Court considers three factors when determining whether the standard of proof in a particular proceeding comports with due process: (1) the individual interest affected by the proceeding; (2) the risk of error created by the procedure; and (3) the countervailing governmental interest supporting the challenged procedure. Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 754 (1982). The Court finds that all three factors weigh in favor of upholding the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 983(c).


         Pursuant to U.S. Const. amend. V, no person can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. However, neither life nor liberty interests are at stake in this case. Rather, the deprivation at issue is property-specifically, currency allegedly stemming from illegal drug activity.

         Claimant argues, however, that this action involves more than the mere loss of money because it is significantly punitive and criminal in nature, thereby necessitating the application of a heightened beyond a reasonable doubt standard. (Doc ## 23 at 2, 5; 47 at 16.) Indeed, whether “forfeiture is characterized as civil or criminal carries important implications for a variety of procedural protections” which include proper standards of proof. Leonard v. Texas, 137 S.Ct. 847, 849-50 (2017) (denying petition for a writ of certiorari).

         This Court, however, rejects Claimant's arguments because the Supreme Court has already spoken on this issue. In United States v. Ursery, 518 U.S. 267, 292 (1996), citing to numerous cases supporting its conclusion, the Supreme Court held that forfeiture proceedings under 21 U.S.C. § 881 “are neither punishment nor criminal for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause.” United States v. Ursery, 518 U.S. 267, 278-292 (1996). It added that “there is little doubt that Congress intended proceedings under §§ 881 and 981 to be civil[.]” Id. at 288. The Court further explained, “To the extent that § 881(a)(6) applies to ‘proceeds' of illegal drug activity, it serves the additional nonpunitive goal of ensuring that persons ...

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