Miller v. State (In re U.S. Currency Totaling $470), S-19-0143

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtBOOMGAARDEN, Justice.
Citation459 P.3d 430
Decision Date03 March 2020
Docket NumberS-19-0143
Parties In the MATTER OF U.S. CURRENCY TOTALING $470,040.00: Robert Miller, Appellant (Claimant), v. The State of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).

459 P.3d 430


Robert Miller, Appellant (Claimant),
The State of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).


Supreme Court of Wyoming.

March 3, 2020

Representing Appellant: Bradley L. Booke, Jackson, Wyoming; David M. Michael, Law Offices of Michael and Burch, LLP, San Francisco, California. Argument by Mr. Michael.

Representing Appellee: Bridget L. Hill, Wyoming Attorney General; Jenny L. Craig, Deputy Attorney General; Joshua C. Eames, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Catherine Mercer, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Mercer.



¶1] The State of Wyoming seized $470,040 in United States currency from Robert Miller in November 2013. The district court forfeited the currency to the State under the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 35-7-1001 to -1060.1 The dispositive issue is whether the State’s 270-day (nine-month) delay in instituting civil forfeiture proceedings violated the statutory requirement that the State institute such proceedings "promptly" and Mr. Miller’s right to due process under the United States Constitution. Applying the four-factor balancing test from Barker v. Wingo , 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972), to assess Mr. Miller’s statutory and constitutional rights, we conclude the State unreasonably delayed filing the action. We therefore reverse and remand for dismissal with prejudice.


[¶2] Mr. Miller raises eight issues on appeal, the first of which is dispositive and which we restate as follows:

Should this action have been dismissed because it was not instituted "promptly" as required by W.S. § 35-7-1049(c) and the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution?2

[459 P.3d 433


The Seizure

¶3] The facts underlying the seizure, though not directly at issue, provide important context for the proceedings. On the evening of November 18, 2013, Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Brandon Dyson stopped Mr. Miller for speeding on Interstate 80 in Uinta County, Wyoming. Mr. Miller, the sole occupant of the car, told Trooper Dyson that the car was a rental and he was traveling from Reno, Nevada to his home in Illinois. Mr. Miller provided Trooper Dyson his Illinois driver’s license and rental car agreement. The agreement reflected the car had been rented two days earlier in Fresno, California. Trooper Dyson invited Mr. Miller to sit in the passenger seat of his patrol car while Trooper Dyson wrote him a citation.

[¶4] While Trooper Dyson completed the citation, they chatted about Mr. Miller’s reason for visiting Fresno and his travel itinerary. Trooper Dyson noticed what he considered signs of nervousness and deception. Trooper Dyson asked for and received permission from Mr. Miller to ask some additional questions after completing the traffic stop. Mr. Miller denied having anything illegal in the car and gave Trooper Dyson permission to search it. When Trooper Dyson pulled back the carpet lining along the right side of the trunk, he discovered a manila envelope in the void behind the trunk lining. The envelope contained rubber-banded bundles of currency. He saw at least one more manila envelope in the void behind the lining. He returned to his patrol car and read Mr. Miller his Miranda rights. Mr. Miller stated he wanted to talk to a lawyer.

[¶5] Trooper Dyson searched the car further and found nine manila envelopes containing a total of $470,000 in the rear quarter panels. Mr. Miller also had $40 in his possession. Trooper Dyson learned from the El Paso Intelligence Center and an officer in California that Mr. Miller had ties to a case involving large quantities of LSD and LSD precursor in California.3 A Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation task force officer contacted the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office later that night and received authorization to seize the currency under Wyoming’s civil forfeiture statute.

The State’s Complaint and Mr. Miller’s Answer

[¶6] The State filed its Verified Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem 270 days after the seizure, on August 15, 2014. The complaint alleged the currency had been lawfully seized pursuant to a probable cause determination by the Wyoming Attorney General, and therefore complied with Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1049(b)(iii). The complaint further alleged the currency was subject to forfeiture because it "was used, or intended for use, in the delivery or receipt of controlled substances, or was otherwise used to facilitate a violation of the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act."

[¶7] Mr. Miller answered the complaint, generally denying that the currency was subject to forfeiture. Among fifteen affirmative defenses, he asserted he had "an innocent possessory and/or ownership interest" in the currency because it "derived from legitimate activities," the complaint was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and the State had "violated its statutory and federal and state constitutional obligations to initiate th[e] action promptly."

Mr. Miller’s Motion to Dismiss

[¶8] Mr. Miller moved to dismiss the case a couple of months later on grounds that the State’s delay in instituting proceedings violated his due process rights under the United States Constitution. He asked the court to evaluate whether his right to due process had been violated using the four-factor Barker test, as set forth in United States v. Eight Thousand Eight Hundred & Fifty Dollars ($8,850) in U.S. Currency , 461 U.S. 555, 103 S.Ct. 2005, 76 L.Ed.2d 143 (1983). He argued the Barker factors weighed against the State, citing the North Dakota Supreme Court’s decision in State v. One Black 1989 Cadillac VIN 1G6DW51Y8KR722027 , 522 N.W.2d 457 (N.D. 1994), in support of his position.

[459 P.3d 434

[¶9] Mr. Miller attached two exhibits to his motion. First, he attached an affidavit from one of his attorneys summarizing a January 27, 2014, telephone conversation with the State’s attorney. The affidavit reflected that during the conversation, defense counsel "emphasized his concerns about due process with regard to the Wyoming forfeiture statutes" and expressed "his serious concern about delay in instituting a forfeiture action." The State’s attorney advised defense counsel "of her belief that the Wyoming statutory regime allowed one year after seizure within which to file a forfeiture petition[.]"

¶10] Second, he attached a copy of two emails between the State’s attorney and his counsel regarding a June 27, 2014, telephone conversation. In the first email, dated June 27, the State’s attorney referenced their conversation earlier that afternoon and reiterated that she intended to file a complaint for forfeiture of the $470,040. Then she extended a settlement offer to Mr. Miller. The State was "willing to return 10% of the funds in exchange for [Mr. Miller’s] voluntary relinquishment of his claim to the rest of the money." If there was any information Mr. Miller was "willing and able to provide that might demonstrate a legitimate source of the funds," the State would be willing to consider it in the course of any settlement negotiations. The State’s attorney asked defense counsel to inform her of Mr. Miller’s acceptance or rejection of the offer and whether Mr. Miller might be willing or able to provide additional information.

[¶11] In the second email, dated June 28, defense counsel responded less than enthusiastically to the settlement offer, stating he would "certainly discuss [it] with my client although it seems a bit premature to contemplate settlement at this time." He noted there were "a number of issues we will need to consider in that regards, including my own concerns with due process issues created by Wyoming law (or the absence of any law establishing procedural safeguards) and the probable cause burdens borne by the government in any forfeiture case." He informed the State’s attorney that he would "get back to [her] about the offer" and "look[ed] forward to receiving" the State’s forfeiture complaint.

The State’s Response

[¶12] The State opposed Mr. Miller’s motion to dismiss on grounds that he lacked standing to participate in the proceedings, the statute of limitations to file the forfeiture action was one year under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-3-105(a)(v)(D), and its initiation of proceedings 270 days after the seizure did not violate Mr. Miller’s due process rights because the Barker factors weighed in its favor. The State identified two reasons for the delay: state and federal criminal investigations and the settlement offer. The State attached an affidavit explaining these reasons in more detail.

[¶13] The affidavit first addressed the January 27, 2014 conversation. The State’s attorney explained that defense counsel "inquired into the general circumstances of the seizure of the defendant currency and the status of law enforcement’s pending investigation." She informed defense counsel "that law enforcement’s efforts were ongoing, and that the Attorney General’s Office would not initiate any forfeiture proceedings until any investigation(s) came to a close." She further informed defense counsel "that by statute, the State has one year to initiate forfeiture proceedings." Mr. Miller’s counsel "disagreed with [her] decision to wait and allow law enforcement to conduct their investigation, stating he had concerns with whether...

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