U.S. Supreme Court To Review Double Jeopardy Case

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to review the case that has virtually halted civil forfeitures across the country and resulted in thousands of convicted individuals asking courts to vacate their convictions.

In United States v. $405,089.23 in U.S. Currency, the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that civil forfeitures constitute punishment for the purpose of double jeopardy. Soon thereafter, courts across the country were flooded with petitions from inmates claiming that they had been punished by civil forfeiture and demanding that their convictions must be vacated. Consequently, prosecutors throughout the nation have been besieged with litigation which requires that they defend cases they thought they had already won.

Criminal forfeiture statutes allow the government to simply combine the forfeiture and the criminal prosecution in the same case. However, civil forfeitures are preferred by the government because the property owner is presumed guilty and because prosecutors have the added benefit of impoverishing the property owner as he or she faces a criminal prosecution. Should the Supreme Court affirm the 9th Circuit’s decision, even in part, many convictions and civil forfeitures will have to be undone.

Both the government and the property owners urged the Supreme Court to take this case to resolve a host of issues which have arisen in the 6 years since the Court ruled in 1989 that civil forfeiture could be considered punishment for double jeopardy purposes.

For more information on civil forfeiture, please contact counsel for the property owners: Jeffrey Steinborn (206) 622-5117, or Jeffrey Finer (509)455-3700.