Monday, October 21, 2013

Sixth Circuit affirms that forfeiture awa[SNORE.....]

The eyes of most criminal law enthusiasts glaze over when money judgments get involved ("we work for FREEDOM, man"), so I will keep this short. Today's Hampton opinion affirms what we already know: forfeiture awards are really just glorified money judgments, not the in rem proceedings against certain proceeds they once appeared to be.

In this case, the defendant committed fraud, taking a set amount of money from certain businesses. The defendant pleaded guilty, and the government sought forfeiture of that amount of money. Hard as this may be to believe, some people who commit financial crimes are bad with money, and the defendant had no assets at the time of sentencing. The Sixth Circuit joined numerous other circuits in holding that the government could obtain a money judgment against the defendant for this sum of money even when the assets sought no longer existed. The language of the forfeiture statute is hardly clear on this point, allowing forfeiture of "any property constituting, or derived from, proceeds the person obtained directly or indirectly, as the result of such a violation." What happens if no such property remains at the time of sentencing? Apparently the government just gets a money judgment. But isn't that what restitution is for? Yes, and the government also obtained an identical restitution award.

Those of us who really enjoy these money cases might find one or two bits of good news to take away from this case. For one, the opinion makes it clear that forfeiture awards are, at least in part, punitive, leaving them open to Eighth Amendment challenges. Indeed, the opinion includes a footnote noting that nobody raised such a challenge here. Additionally, although it was not raised, there still remains a question regarding duplicative forfeiture/restitution awa[SNORE....]


Anonymous said...

Forfeiture all about money judgments?...not quite. If you check out my name on Google Scholar, you will see that I have been embroiled in a forfeiture battle for MORE THAN FIVE YEARS NOW. FIVE YEARS!! (the Government seized my stuff in 10/08) It is hard to believe that our constitution says "shall not be deprived of property"--when it took more than 4 years to get a hearing, and now more than half a year without a ruling. A lot more at stake than a judgment! and I'm an innocent third party! (to whom most of the property is titled to, as you will note)
Megan Coffman

anbrandon said...

Ms. Coffman, I have not studied the details of your case, but you are absolutely correct that forfeiture can address other property. What federal defenders are seeing more and more of, however, is the type of case in which the government alleges some financial crime and just seeks a money judgment in both forfeiture and restitution. This post was meant to highlight the fact that the courts are going along with that approach, not to suggest that the government is not also using forfeiture as a means to seize real or personal property (arguably, the original purpose of the forfeiture statute). I apologize if the wording of my post minimized that cause and wish you the best of luck with your struggle.