21 F.3d 426 (4th Cir. 1994), 93-1642, U.S. v. Stewart

Docket Nº:93-1642.
Citation:21 F.3d 426
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Casmore A. STEWART, Claimant-Appellant, and U.S. Currency $26,400, Defendant.
Case Date:March 22, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 426

21 F.3d 426 (4th Cir. 1994)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Casmore A. STEWART, Claimant-Appellant,

and

U.S. Currency $26,400, Defendant.

No. 93-1642.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

March 22, 1994

         Editorial Note:

         This opinion appears in the Federal reporter in a table titled "Table of Decisions Without Reported Opinions". (See FI CTA4 Rule 36 regarding use of unpublished opinions)

        Argued Feb. 7, 1994.

        Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Fayetteville. W. Earl Britt, District Judge. (CA-91-59-CIV-3-BR)

        David Bruce Freedman, White & Crumpler, Winston-Salem, NC, for appellant.

        Stephen Aubrey West, Asst. U.S. Atty. (James R. Dedrick, U.S. Atty., on brief), Raleigh, NC, for appellee.

        E.D.N.C.

        AFFIRMED.

        Before POWELL, Associate Justice (Retired), United States Supreme Court, sitting by designation, and HALL and LUTTIG, Circuit Judges.

        OPINION

        PER CURIAM:

        This is an appeal from a civil forfeiture action. The district court granted summary judgment to the government and ordered the defendant currency forfeited. The claimant Casmore Stewart ("Claimant" or "Stewart") appeals. We affirm.

        I

        On June 3, 1991, members of the Police Department of Winston-Salem, North Carolina approached claimant Stewart and Kenneth Edward Smith, who were standing next to a 1988 Oldsmobile. 1 Both Claimant and Smith consented to a search of the car. The officers discovered a clothier shopping bag from Brooklyn, New York, on the rear floorboard of the car. The bag contained $25,510 in cash. The officers also recovered $700 and $200 from Claimant and Smith, respectively. After both men denied ownership of the currency, the officers seized it. 2 The United States brought this forfeiture action against the currency pursuant to 18 U.S.C.A. § 981(a)(1)(A) (West Supp.1993) and 21 U.S.C.A. § 881(a)(6) (West 1981 & Supp.1993). 3 Claimant subsequently filed a verified claim of ownership of the money, which he claimed he had not illegally obtained. After several rounds of motions, the district court denied the Claimant's motion for summary judgment and granted the government's cross-motion for summary judgment. Claimant appeals from the judgment, which ordered forfeiture of the currency to the United States.

        II

        Our review of the probable cause determination and the grant of summary judgment is de novo. 7715 Betsy Bruce Lane, 906 F.2d at 112; Higgins v. E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co., 863 F.2d 1162, 1167 (4th Cir.1988).

        In civil forfeiture cases pursuant to § 881(a)(6), the United States has the initial burden of establishing probable cause to believe that the money was substantially connected to illegal drug activity. United States v. Thomas, 913 F.2d 1111, 1114 (4th Cir.1990); see 21 U.S.C.A. § 881(d) (incorporating 19 U.S.C.A.§ 1615 (West 1980 & Supp.1993)). The United States is required to show less than prima facie proof but more than mere suspicion. 7715 Betsy Bruce Lane, 906 F.2d at 112. Probable cause may be established by circumstantial evidence. Id. at 113.

        If, upon a showing of probable cause, the claimant cannot produce evidence sufficient to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the property is not connected to illegal activity, the property may be properly forfeited. Thomas, 913 F.2d at 1114 (quoting United States v. One 1980 Red Ferrari, 875 F.2d 186, 188 (8th Cir.1989)).

        III

        Claimant contends that the government failed to produce sufficient evidence of probable cause that a substantial connection existed between the money and an illegal activity. We do not agree, and find that the undisputed facts in the record support the district court's conclusion.

        A large sum of money was found in a shopping bag on the rear floorboard...

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