U.S. vs Ursery


Docket 95-345 — Decided June 24, 1996


In No. 95-345, the Government instituted civil forfeiture proceedings
under 21 U.S.C. 881(a)(7) against respondent Ursery’s house, alleging
that it had been used to facilitate illegal drug transactions. Shortly
before Ursery settled that claim, he was indicted, and was later
convicted, of manufacturing marijuana in violation of 841(a)(1). In No.
95- 346, the Government filed a civil in rem complaint against various
property seized from, or titled to, respondents Arlt and Wren or Arlt’s
corporation, alleging that each item was subject to forfeiture under 18
U.S.C. 981(a)(1)(A) because it was involved in money laundering violative
of 1956, and to forfeiture under 21 U.S.C. 881(a)(6) as the proceeds of a
felonious drug transaction. Litigation of the forfeiture action was
deferred while Arlt and Wren were prosecuted on drug and money-laundering
charges under 846 and 18 U.S.C. 371 and 1956. After their convictions,
the District Court granted the Government’s motion for summary judgment
in the forfeiture proceeding. The Courts of Appeals reversed Ursery’s
conviction and the forfeiture judgment against Arlt and Wren, holding
that the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits the Government from both
punishing a defendant for a criminal offense and forfeiting his property
for that same offense in a separate civil proceeding. The courts reasoned
in part that Halper v. United States, 490 U.S. 435, and Austin v. United
States, 509 U.S. 602, meant that, as a categorical matter, civil
forfeitures always constitute – punishmentfor double jeopardy purposes.
This Court consolidated the cases.


In rem civil forfeitures are neither “punishment” nor criminal for
purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Pp. 3-23.

(a) Congress long has authorized the Government to bring parallel
criminal actions and in rem civil forfeiture proceedings based upon the
same underlying events, see, e.g., The Palmyra, 12 Wheat. 1, 14-15, and
this Court consistently has concluded that the Double Jeopardy Clause
does not apply to such forfeitures because they do not impose punishment,
see, e.g., Various Items of Personal Property v. United States, 282 U.S.
577, 581; One Lot Emerald Cut Stones v. United States, 409 U.S. 232,
235-236 (per curiam). In its most recent case, United States v. One
Assortment of 89 Firearms, 465 U.S. 354, the Court held that a forfeiture
was not barred by a prior criminal proceeding after applying a two-part
test asking, first, whether Congress intended the particular forfeiture
to be a remedial civil sanction or a criminal penalty, and, second,
whether the forfeiture proceedings are so punitive in fact as to
establish that they may not legitimately be viewed as civil in nature,
despite any congressional intent to establish a civil remedial mechanism.
Pp. 5-9.

(b) Though the 89 Firearms test was more refined, perhaps, than the
Court’s Various Items analysis, the conclusion was the same in each case:
in rem civil forfeiture is a remedial civil sanction, distinct from
potentially punitive in personam civil penalties such as fines, and does
not constitute a punishment for double jeopardy purposes. See Gore v.
United States, 357 U.S. 386, 392. The Courts of Appeals misread Halper,
Austin, and Montana Dept. of Revenue v. Kurth Ranch, 511 U.S. ___, as
having abandoned this oft-affirmed rule. None of those decisions
purported to overrule Various Items, Emerald Cut Stones, and 89 Firearms
or to replace the Court’s traditional understanding. It would have been
remarkable for the Court both to have held unconstitutional a
well-established practice, and to have overruled a long line of
precedent, without having even suggested that it was doing so. Moreover,
the cases in question did not deal with the subject of this case: in rem
civil forfeitures for double jeopardy purposes. Halper involved in
personam civil penalties under the Double Jeopardy Clause. Kurth Ranch
considered a punitive state tax imposed on marijuana under that Clause.
And Austin dealt with civil forfeitures under the Eighth Amendment’s
Excessive Fines Clause. Pp. 10-19.

(c) The forfeitures at issue are civil proceedings under the two part
89 Firearms test. First, there is little doubt that Congress intended
proceedings under 881 and 981 to be civil, since those statutes’
procedural enforcement mechanisms are themselves distinctly civil in
nature. See, e.g., 89 Firearms, 465 U.S., at 363. Second, there is little
evidence, much less the “clearest proof” that the Court requires, see
e.g., id., at 365, suggesting that forfeiture proceedings under those
sections are so punitive in form and effect as to render them criminal
despite Congress’ intent to the contrary. These statutes are, in most
significant respects, indistinguishable from those reviewed, and held not
to be punitive, in Various Items, Emerald Cut Stones, and 89 Firearms.
That these are civil proceedings is also supported by other factors that
the Court has found persuasive, including the considerations that (1) in
rem civil forfeiture has not historically been regarded as punishment;
(2) there is no requirement in the statutes at issue that the Government
demonstrate scienter in order to establish that the property is subject
to forfeiture; (3) though both statutes may serve a deterrent purpose,
this purpose may serve civil as well as criminal goals; and (4) the fact
that both are tied to criminal activity is insufficient in itself to
render them punitive. See, e.g., United States v. Ward, 448 U.S. 242,
247- 248, n. 7, 249. Pp. 19-23.

No. 95-345, 59 F.3d 568, and No. 95-346, 33 F.3d 1210 and 56 F.3d 41,

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
O’Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Kennedy,
J., filed a concurring opinion. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring
in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined. Stevens, J., filed an
opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.

DUI Attorneys

DUI.com | DWI.com