AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability
of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel


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Forfeiture Proceedings

     A police officer claimed that he had probable cause to seize a large amount of money found in a suspect's possession, but a federal appeals court, upholding an award of $1 in nominal damages and attorneys' fees against the officer for a Fourth Amendment violation, found that the mere fact that a large amount of money was found was insufficient to show a connection to possible drug sales. Even though the plaintiff used two different names when he checked into a hotel, had ties to New York City, and had a third-degree robbery criminal record, these additional facts also did not establish probable cause to find drug trafficking, but merely supported a brief detention of the money for further investigation, rather than the lengthy detention that occurred. The plaintiff had presented evidence that he currently resided in Vermont, explained why he used two names and did not try to conceal it, and his most recent robbery conviction occurred long ago in 1973. Diamond v. O'Connor, #08-5082, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 21413 (Unpub. 2nd Cir.).
     The U.S. government was not entitled to the civil forfeiture of $200,000 in funds that were allegedly the proceeds of a Los Angeles medical marijuana distribution group. A federal court found that that the evidence presented was the result of an illegal search and therefore should have been suppressed. Without the suppressed evidence, there was nothing to tie the funds to any violation of federal drug laws. "Given the government's strong financial incentive to prevail in civil forfeiture actions, the application of the exclusionary sanction in these cases is likely to prove especially effective in deterring law enforcement agents from engaging in illegal activity. Applying the exclusionary rule in forfeiture proceedings also protects judicial integrity by ensuring that the courts do not serve as a conduit through which the government fills its coffers at the expense of those whose constitutional rights its agents violated." The problem with the state warrant under which the funds had been seized, along with 209 pounds of marijuana, 21 pounds of hashish and 12 pounds of marijuana oil was that the judge who signed the warrant was not told that the premises operated as a medical dispensary, and therefore might not have been in violation of California state laws. The appeals court was particularly concerned that the Los Angeles police, who obtained a search warrant and conducted the raid, turning over 80% of the money to the federal government, but retaining 20% of the funds for the local police department "might stand to profit from unlawful activity." U.S. v. $186,416.00 in U.S. Currency, #07-56549, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 22833 (9th. Cir.).

     The New York City Police Department was ruled to have violated the property rights of an auto finance company without due process of law by proceeding with a forfeiture proceeding concerning a vehicle seized for suspected use in criminal activity without providing the finance company with notice and an opportunity to be heard in the proceeding. The auto finance company allegedly had a valid security interest in the vehicle. Additionally, a delay by the city in going forward with the forfeiture proceeding deprived the plaintiff of property, since the value of the vehicle decreases over time. Ford Motor Credit Co. v. NYC Police Dept., No. 06-4600, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 22607 (2nd Cir.).
    A city ordinance providing for the forfeiture to the city of a car used to commit criminal actions prohibited by state law, such as solicitation of prostitution or acquiring controlled substances, was preempted by existing state statutes on the subject of forfeiture of vehicles, and void under a provision of the California state constitution. O'Connell v. City of Stockton, No. S135160, 2007 Cal. Lexis 7879.
     In proceeding challenging attempted forfeiture of paintings seized in the course of criminal prosecution, the government, rather than the owner had the burden of proof and the failure of the U.S. government to provide written notice of the seizure within 60 days required it to return the paintings, under the provisions of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 983(a)(1)(F). Saro v. U.S., No. 04-14308, 173 Fed. Appx. 760 (11th Cir. 2006). [N/R]
     Despite claims by owner of vehicles seized for forfeiture that criminal investigator told him that the release of the vehicles would be conditioned on his agreement to testify falsely against others in a criminal investigation, the owner did not show any deprivation of a due process right. There was no evidence that the investigator had any power over the continuation or dismissal of the forfeiture action or that he actually communicated with those pursuing forfeiture of the vehicles. Wrench Transp. Services, Inc. v. Bradley, No. 04-1772, 136 Fed. Appx. 521 (3rd Cir. 2005). [N/R]
     California city's ordinance allowing the seizure of cars used to solicit prostitution or carry out drug transactions, was violative of due process by failing to provide for a reasonably prompt post-seizure hearing on the probable merits of the city's forfeiture case. O'Connell v. City of Stockton, No. C044400, 2005 Cal. App. Lexis 639;128 Cal. App. 4th 831. ). [2005 LR Jun]
     Federal appeals court upholds constitutionality of Detroit anti-vice operation involving the use of undercover female police officers posing as prostitutes in high-crime areas to make arrests for soliciting prostitution and seize vehicles driven or utilized by males, imposing forfeiture if applicable fees and fines were not subsequently Ross v. Duggan , No. 02-1987, 2004 U.S. App. Lexis 28049 (6th Cir. 2004), recommended for full publication, 2005. [2005 LR May]
     Police officer was justified in seizing arrestee's truck and currency under Tennessee forfeiture statute based on motorist's apparent possession of prescription drugs which were not his, which the officer could believe the suspect intended to resell. Pinnix v. Pollock, No. 03-1150, 338 F. Supp. 2d 885 (W.D. Tenn. 2004). [N/R]
     A motion to vacate on the basis of bad faith and misconduct a prior settlement and voluntary dismissal of the plaintiff's claim against the Missouri Highway Patrol for the alleged improper seizure and retention of cash found in his vehicle during an arrest for a drug offense had to be brought within a one-year statute of limitations for motions founded in fraud. The plaintiff's three-year delay in bringing the motion was not reasonable, so that the motion was properly denied. Middleton v. McDonald, No. 03-3179, 388 F.3d 614 (8th Cir. 2004). [N/R]
     Car owner whose vehicle was seized and subject to forfeiture proceedings after another person driving it was arrested for attempting to purchase marijuana could not pursue federal civil rights lawsuit asserting that the forfeiture was a violation of due process while the state forfeiture proceeding's direct appeal process was not yet complete. Loch v. Watkins, No. 01-1598, 337 F.3d 574 (6th Cir. 2003). [N/R]
     [N/R] Forfeiture of defendant's vehicle was not defective because it was held by city police and not physically "delivered" to the sheriff; purpose of custody by the sheriff is to provide proper notice, which was done in this case. People v. Adams, #2-99-0134, 2001 Ill. App. LEXIS ---- (2nd Dist. 2001).
     329:72 An arrestee's failure to challenge a forfeiture proceeding concerning $11,000 he gathered to use for bail money precluded him from asserting, in a Federal Tort Claims Act lawsuit, that he had a property interest in the money at the time he claimed it was "illegally seized." Bazuaye v. U.S., 41 F.Supp. 2d 19 (D.D.C. 1999).
     307:105 Patrolman had basis to subject $10,050 in cash to sniff by drug detecting dog when motorist's story concerning source of funds was immediately contradicted by his mother at the scene of his valid stop and arrest for speeding; officer acted reasonably in turning money over to DEA for further proceedings when fellow officer stated that dog alerted to the cash. Conrod v. Davis, 120 F.3d 92 (8th Cir. 1997).


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