U.S. v. $405,089.23 U.S. Currency

Decision Date12 July 1994
Docket NumberNo. 93-55947,93-55947
Citation33 F.3d 1210
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. $405,089.23 U.S. CURRENCY, et al., Defendants. Charles Arlt; James Wren; Payback Mines, Claimants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Charles Wesley Arlt, Lompoc, CA, and James Eli Wren, Lompoc, CA, pro se, for claimants-appellants.

Mark A. Feldman, Asst. U.S. Atty., Los Angeles, CA, for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before: POOLE and REINHARDT, Circuit Judges, and TANNER, ** District Judge.

REINHARDT, Circuit Judge:

This case involves the constitutional limits on the government's ability to seek criminal penalties and civil forfeiture based on the same violations of law. The government brought a criminal prosecution against the claimants at approximately the same time as it instituted this separate and parallel civil forfeiture action under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 981(a)(1)(A) and 21 U.S.C. Sec. 881(a)(6). The question is whether the government violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment by obtaining convictions in the criminal case and then continuing to pursue the forfeiture action. We answer the question in the affirmative and reverse the order of forfeiture.

I.

Claimants James Wren, Charles Arlt, and Payback Mines appeal pro se the forfeiture of their property following Wren and Arlt's criminal convictions of various counts of conspiracy and money laundering. In the criminal case, Arlt, Wren, and several others had been accused of conducting a large-scale methamphetamine manufacturing operation. Through a series of front corporations, including Payback Mines, the defendants had sought to create the appearance that they were engaging in legitimate gold mining activities.

The government instituted this civil forfeiture action on June 17, 1991, five days after the grand jury issued a superseding indictment in the parallel criminal case. The forfeiture complaint listed several hundred thousand dollars' worth of property: $405,089.23 in a Security Pacific Bank account; $8,929.93 in three Bank of America accounts; $123,000 in cash and 138 silver bars seized at Mayhill Bail Bonds; one Bell 47 G-2 helicopter; one shrimp boat; a Piper 6 Cherokee airplane; and eleven automobiles and one boat purchased at an auction. The government argued that these pieces of property were connected to the offenses that were the subject of the parallel criminal case. It claimed that the property was forfeitable on two independent grounds: as proceeds of illegal narcotics transactions under 21 U.S.C. Sec. 881(a)(6), and as property "involved in" money laundering violations under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 981(a)(1)(A). Arlt, Wren, and Payback Mines filed claims to the res. Pursuant to a stipulation between the parties, the district court effectively stayed the civil forfeiture action pending the completion of the parallel criminal case.

The criminal case terminated on March 27, 1992, with the convictions of Arlt, Wren, and their codefendants. Over eight months later, on December 4, the government filed a motion for summary judgment in the parallel forfeiture action. The government's motion relied on the criminal conviction, a declaration submitted by I.R.S. Special Agent Phillip Mullins, and various pieces of documentary evidence. Asserting that this evidence established probable cause and therefore shifted the burden of proof to the claimants, see 19 U.S.C. Sec. 1615, the government claimed that the claimants had failed to demonstrate that the property was not subject to forfeiture.

On April 1, 1993, the district court granted the government's motion and entered a judgment ordering that the entire res be forfeited to the United States. Adopting the government's proposed statement of uncontroverted facts and conclusions of law with only a few minor alterations, the district court held that "[t]he convictions of Arlt, Wren and Hill of conspiracy to aid and abet the manufacture of methamphetamine, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and money laundering are sufficient for probable cause by themselves." The court also noted several additional factors, relating to specific pieces of property, which bolstered its conclusion that the government had established probable cause. For example, the court noted that $123,000 is an extremely large amount of cash, that Arlt, Wren, and Hill had signature authority over several of the bank accounts, and that the vehicles were purchased with cash and placed in the name of Arlt's business, Payback Mines. The district court concluded that the government had established probable cause under both its "narcotics proceeds" theory and its "money laundering" theory. Because the claimants did not introduce any evidence tending to show that the property was not subject to forfeiture, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the government. Arlt, Wren, and Payback Mines appeal pro se.

II.

On appeal, Arlt, Wren, and Payback Mines claim that the government lacked probable cause to institute these proceedings, that the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment bars this action, that the forfeiture violates the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment, and that the district court lacked in rem jurisdiction over a small part of the res. Where reversal of the district court's judgment on one ground would bar further proceedings against a party opposing the government, while reversal on other grounds would afford less than complete relief to that party, we first decide the issue which would afford complete relief. Here, the Double Jeopardy Clause argument, if successful, would result in a complete bar to the maintenance or reinstitution of these proceedings, while the relief sought on the other grounds would not. Thus, we begin with the Double Jeopardy Clause. 1 In this case, because we hold that the clause is applicable and bars further proceedings, we end with it as well. 2

A.

The most basic element of the Double Jeopardy Clause is the protection it affords against successive prosecutions--that is, against efforts to impose punishment for the same offense in two or more separate proceedings. That protection applies with equal force whether the first prosecution results in a conviction or an acquittal. See Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1, 98 S.Ct. 2141, 57 L.Ed.2d 1 (1978); Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 161, 97 S.Ct. 2221, 53 L.Ed.2d 187 (1977). Whatever other abuses the Clause prohibits, at its most fundamental level it protects an accused against being forced to defend himself against repeated attempts to exact one or more punishments for the same offense. "The basis of the Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy is that a person shall not be harassed by successive trials; that an accused shall not have to marshal the resources and energies necessary for his defense more than once for the same alleged criminal acts." Abbate v. United States, 359 U.S. 187, 198-99, 79 S.Ct. 666, 672-73, 3 L.Ed.2d 729 (1959) (opinion of Brennan, J.). This principle is "deeply ingrained in at least the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence," Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 187, 78 S.Ct. 221, 223, 2 L.Ed.2d 199 (1957), and, in fact, traces its roots "deep into Greek and Roman times." Bartkus v. Illinois, 359 U.S. 121, 151-52, 79 S.Ct. 676, 695-96, 3 L.Ed.2d 684 (1959) (Black, J., dissenting).

There can be little doubt that this case implicates the core Double Jeopardy protection. Over a year after the claimants' criminal convictions, a different district judge in a different proceeding awarded the government title to nearly all of the claimants' property, because of its connection with the very offenses that resulted in criminal punishment. The forfeiture complaint in this case was based on precisely the same conduct addressed in the claimants' criminal case, and it sought to forfeit title to the claimants' property on the basis of precisely the same violations of the same statutes. In short, this civil forfeiture action and the claimants' criminal prosecution addressed the identical violations of the identical laws; the only difference between the two proceedings was the remedy sought by the government. Yet the government could have sought both remedies without subjecting Arlt and Wren to multiple and successive proceedings. It could have included a criminal forfeiture count in the indictment which led to the claimants' convictions. However, it did not choose to follow that course. Rather, it elected to pursue its forfeiture action in a separate and parallel proceeding, which was decided after the criminal trial. By doing so, the government prevented Arlt and Wren from "being able, once and for all, to conclude [their] confrontation with society" at the time of the jury's verdict. United States v. Jorn, 400 U.S. 470, 486, 91 S.Ct. 547, 558, 27 L.Ed.2d 543 (1971) (opinion of Harlan, J.).

The government's actions in this case clearly raise substantial double jeopardy concerns. However, to determine whether these actions violate the Fifth Amendment, we must consider two questions: whether the civil forfeiture action and the claimants' criminal prosecution constituted separate "proceedings," and whether civil forfeiture under 21 U.S.C. Sec. 881(a)(6) and 18 U.S.C. Sec. 981(a)(1)(A) constitutes "punishment." If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then the government's actions constituted a successive attempt to impose punishment, in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause.

For the reasons we have expressed above, we have little difficulty in determining that this civil forfeiture proceeding constitutes a separate "proceeding" from the prosecution which resulted in the claimants' criminal convictions. We recognize that the Second and Eleventh Circuits have recently held in cases like this one that criminal prosecutions do not constitute separate...

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