82 F.3d 582 (3rd Cir. 1996), 95-3195, United States v. Various Computers and Computer Equipment

Docket Nº:95-3195, 95-3378 and 95-3379.
Citation:82 F.3d 582
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. VARIOUS COMPUTERS AND COMPUTER EQUIPMENT, Paris Francis Lundis, Appellants.
Case Date:April 30, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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82 F.3d 582 (3rd Cir. 1996)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,

v.

VARIOUS COMPUTERS AND COMPUTER EQUIPMENT, Paris Francis

Lundis, Appellants.

Nos. 95-3195, 95-3378 and 95-3379.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

April 30, 1996

Argued March 28, 1996.

Sur Petition for Rehearing June 27, 1996.

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On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, D.C. No. 94-2090; Honorable William L. Standish, District Judge.

Frederick W. Thieman, U.S. Attorney, Mary McKeen Houghton, Assistant U.S. Attorney (argued), Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellee.

Shelley Stark, Acting Federal Public Defender, W. Penn Hackney, First Asst. Federal Public Defender, Karen Sirianni Gerlach, Asst. Federal Public Defender (argued), Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellants.

Before: GREENBERG, ROTH, and ROSENN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

ROSENN, Circuit Judge.

The primary, and in this circuit, novel, issue in this appeal is whether civil forfeiture, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(C), constitutes punishment for double jeopardy purposes, when a court has already sentenced a defendant to imprisonment and the payment of restitution. Paris Francis Lundis pled guilty in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to one count of unauthorized use and possession of credit cards in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(2) & (a)(3). In addition to a ten

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month prison sentence and three years of supervised release, the court ordered Lundis to pay $13,674.50 restitution, the value of several pieces of computer equipment fraudulently obtained by Lundis. Further, the court deemed the equipment to be proceeds of Lundis's crime, and thus forfeitable to the United States pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(C). The court issued a final order of forfeiture on March 28, 1995.

We conclude that we have jurisdiction and affirm.

I.

On September 21, 1994, Lundis pled guilty to Count I of a four count indictment charging him with unauthorized use and possession of credit cards in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1029(a)(2) and (a)(3). Lundis admitted that he stole the cards and used them to illegally purchase computers and computer equipment. The trial court sentenced him to ten months imprisonment, and ordered that he pay $13,674.50 in restitution to the store where he obtained the computers.

At the sentencing hearing, Lundis requested that the court allow him to keep the property in light of the court's requirement that he pay restitution. 1 The Government argued that the computers were proceeds of Lundis's crime, and thus were subject to civil forfeiture pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(C). 2 The court denied Lundis's request for possession of the property, stating that the computers were forfeitable "as a matter of law."

On December 9, 1994, the Government instituted civil forfeiture proceedings in rem against the computers by filing a verified complaint for forfeiture. The Government contends that it personally served a warrant of arrest and complaint for forfeiture against the computers upon Lundis at the Allegheny County Jail on February 1, 1995. Lundis timely filed a claim to the computers and an answer to the Government's complaint, along with a motion to proceed in forma pauperis and for appointment of counsel.

The Government opposed Lundis's request to proceed in forma pauperis and his request for counsel. It also filed a motion to dismiss Lundis's claim. In the motion to dismiss, the Government asserted that Lundis's claim to the computers was defective because it was not verified as required by Supplemental Rule C(6) for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims ("Rule C(6)"). Lundis timely filed a response in opposition to the Government's motion to dismiss, admitting that his claim was neither verified nor properly served, but asserting that the procedural defects were due to his pro se and prison status. The district court dismissed Lundis's claim and entered a Judgment and Final Order of Forfeiture on March 28, 1995, in favor of the United States.

Throughout these proceedings, Lundis filed many documents pro se with the district court, including three "Notices of Appeal." 3 Lundis filed motions for leave to appeal in forma pauperis and for appointment of counsel with this court, and this court granted the motions. 4

II.

The Government raises jurisdictional issues contending that Lundis has not appealed from the final order of forfeiture. We have plenary review over questions of jurisdiction. See Anthuis v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 971 F.2d 999, 1002 (3rd Cir.1992).

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The district court's dismissal of Lundis's claim to the property had the effect of denying him standing, and thus barred him from appealing the final forfeiture order. Without a colorable claim to the computers, Lundis lacked standing to challenge the forfeiture proceedings. Thus, as a threshold question, we must address whether the court properly denied Lundis's pro se motion to intervene in the forfeiture proceedings.

A.

Rule C(6) requires a claimant to property in a civil forfeiture to file a verified claim with the district court. The rule provides, in relevant part:

(6) Claim and Answer; Interrogatories. The claimant of property that is the subject of an action in rem shall file a claim within 10 days after process has been executed, or within such additional time as may be allowed by the court.... The claim shall be verified on oath or solemn affirmation, and shall state the interest in the property by virtue of which the claimant demands its restitution and the right to defend this action.

Supplemental Rule C(6) for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims (emphasis added).

After the Government initiated forfeiture proceedings, Lundis duly filed a "Claim and Cost Bond and Affidavit in forma pauperis " in which he asserted that the computer equipment the Government confiscated rightfully belonged to him. This claim conformed to the rules in every respect except it lacked a verification.

The purpose of Rule C(6) is to require claimants to come forward as quickly as possible after the initiation of forfeiture proceedings, so that the court may hear all interested parties and resolve the dispute without delay. See United States v.1982 Yukon Delta Houseboat, 774 F.2d 1432, 1436 (9th Cir.1985). The Rule requires claims to be verified upon oath or solemn affirmation to minimize the danger of false claims. Id. We understand the importance of these goals. On the facts of this case, however, a verification by Lundis, as we note below, would have been superfluous.

The fundament of Lundis's claim to ownership of the computers is his obligation to make restitution to the owners of the computer equipment. This order of restitution came from the district court. Both the court and the Government were aware of the source of Lundis's interest in the property and the basis for his claim of ownership. Thus, the verification would not have added to the authenticity of Lundis's petition. We therefore believe that it was error under these circumstances to reject Lundis's claim merely because of the absence of verification, especially in light of Lundis's pro se status and his lack of any knowledge of Rule C(6).

With his colorable claim to ownership of the computers, we believe that Lundis had standing at least to challenge the forfeiture proceedings. See United States v. Property at 4492 S. Livonia Rd., Livonia, 889 F.2d 1258, 1262 (2nd Cir.1989); see also United States v. $38,000 in United States Currency, 816 F.2d 1538, 1544 (11th Cir.1987) ("A claimant need not own the property in order to have standing to...

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