U.S. v. Ursery

Decision Date24 June 1996
Docket Number95345
PartiesUNITED STATES v. URSERY
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

No. 95-345.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued April 17, 1996

Decided June 24, 1996 *

Syllabus

In No. 95-345, the Government instituted civil forfeiture proceedings under 21 U. S. C. Section(s) 881(a)(7) against respondent Ursery's house, alleging that it had been used to facilitate illegal drug transactions. Shortly before Ursery settled that claim, he was indicted, and was later convicted, of manufacturing marijuana in violation of Section(s) 841(a)(1). In No. 95-346, the Government filed a civil in rem complaint against various property seized from, or titled to, respondents Arlt and Wren or Arlt's corporation, alleging that each item was subject to forfeiture under 18 U. S. C. Section(s) 981(a)(1)(A) because it was involved in money laundering violative of Section(s) 1956, and to forfeiture under 21 U. S. C. Section(s) 881(a)(6) as the proceeds of a felonious drug transaction. Litigation of the forfeiture action was deferred while Arlt and Wren were prosecuted on drug and money-laundering charges under Section(s) 846 and 18 U. S. C. Section(s) 371 and 1956. After their convictions, the District Court granted the Government's motion for summary judgment in the forfeiture proceeding. The Courts of Appeals reversed Ursery's conviction and the forfeiture judgment against Arlt and Wren, holding that the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits the Government from both punishing a defendant for a criminal offense and forfeiting his property for that same offense in a separate civil proceeding. The courts reasoned in part that Halper v. United States, 490 U. S. 435, and Austin v. United States, 509 U. S. 602, meant that, as a categorical matter, civil forfeitures always constitute "punishment" for double jeopardy purposes. This Court consolidated the cases.

Held: In rem civil forfeitures are neither "punishment" nor criminal for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Pp. 3-23.

(a) Congress long has authorized the Government to bring parallel criminal actions and in rem civil forfeiture proceedings based upon the same underlying events, see, e.g., The Palmyra, 12 Wheat. 1, 14-15, and this Court consistently has concluded that the Double Jeopardy Clause does not apply to such forfeitures because they do not impose punishment, see, e.g., Various Items of Personal Property v. United States, 282 U. S. 577, 581; One Lot Emerald Cut Stones v. United States, 409 U. S. 232, 235-236 (per curiam). In its most recent case, United States v. One Assortment of 89 Firearms, 465 U. S. 354, the Court held that a forfeiture was not barred by a prior criminal proceeding after applying a two-part test asking, first, whether Congress intended the particular forfeiture to be a remedial civil sanction or a criminal penalty, and, second, whether the forfeiture proceedings are so punitive in fact as to establish that they may not legitimately be viewed as civil in nature, despite any congressional intent to establish a civil remedial mechanism. Pp. 5-9.

(b) Though the 89 Firearms test was more refined, perhaps, than the Court's Various Items analysis, the conclusion was the same in each case: in rem civil forfeiture is a remedial civil sanction, distinct from potentially punitive in personam civil penalties such as fines, and does not constitute a punishment for double jeopardy purposes. See Gore v. United States, 357 U. S. 386, 392. The Courts of Appeals misread Halper, Austin, and Montana Dept. of Revenue v. Kurth Ranch, 511 U. S. ___, as having abandoned this oft-affirmed rule. None of those decisions purported to overrule Various Items, Emerald Cut Stones, and 89 Firearms or to replace the Court's traditional understanding. It would have been remarkable for the Court both to have held unconstitutional a well-established practice, and to have overruled a long line of precedent, without having even suggested that it was doing so. Moreover, the cases in question did not deal with the subject of this case: in rem civil forfeitures for double jeopardy purposes. Halper involved in personam civil penalties under the Double Jeopardy Clause. Kurth Ranch considered a punitive state tax imposed on marijuana under that Clause. And Austin dealt with civil forfeitures under the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause. Pp. 10-19.

(c) Theforfeitures at issue are civil proceedings under the two-part 89 Firearms test. First, there is little doubt that Congress intended proceedings under Section(s) 881 and 981 to be civil, since those statutes' procedural enforcement mechanisms are themselves distinctly civil in nature. See, e.g., 89 Firearms, 465 U. S., at 363. Second, there is little evidence, much less the "clearest proof" that the Court requires, see e.g., id., at 365, suggesting that forfeiture proceedings under those sections are so punitive in form and effect as to render them criminal despite Congress' intent to the contrary. These statutes are, in most significant respects, indistinguishable from those reviewed, and held not to be punitive, in Various Items, Emerald Cut Stones, and 89 Firearms. That these are civil proceedings is also supported by other factors that the Court has found persuasive, including the considerations that (1) in rem civil forfeiture has not historically been regarded as punishment; (2) there is no requirement in the statutes at issue that the Government demonstrate scienter in order to establish that the property is subject to forfeiture; (3) though both statutes may serve a deterrent purpose, this purpose may serve civil as well as criminal goals; and (4) the fact that both are tied to criminal activity is insufficient in itself to render them punitive. See, e.g., United States v. Ward, 448 U. S. 242, 247-248, n. 7, 249. Pp. 19-23.

No. 95-345, 59 F. 3d 568, and No. 95-346, 33 F. 3d 1210 and 56 F. 3d 41, reversed.

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

In separate cases, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits the Government from both punishing a defendant for a criminal offense and forfeiting his property for that same offense in a separate civil proceeding. We consolidated those cases for our review, and now reverse. These civil forfeitures (and civil forfeitures generally), we hold, do not constitute "punishment" for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause.

I.

No. 95-345: Michigan Police found marijuana growing adjacent to respondent Guy Ursery's house, and discovered marijuana seeds, stems, stalks, and a growlight within the house. The United States instituted civil forfeiture proceedings against the house, alleging that the property was subject to forfeiture under 84 Stat. 1276, as amended, 21 U. S. C. Section(s) 881(a)(7) because it had been used for several years to facilitate the unlawful processing and distribution of a controlled substance. Ursery ultimately paid the United States $13,250 to settle the forfeiture claim in full. Shortly before the settlement was consummated, Ursery was indicted for manufacturing marijuana, in violation of Section(s) 841(a)(1). A jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to 63 months in prison.

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit by a divided vote reversed Ursery's criminal conviction, holding that the conviction violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. 59 F. 3d 568 (1995). The court based its conclusion in part upon its belief that our decisions in United States v. Halper, 490 U. S. 435 (1989), and Austin v. United States, 509 U. S. 602 (1993), meant that any civil forfeiture under Section(s) 881(a)(7) constitutes punishment for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Ursery, in the court's view, had therefore been "punished" in the forfeiture proceeding against his property, and could not be subsequently criminally tried for violation of 21 U. S. C. Section(s) 841(a)(1).

No. 95-346: Following a jury trial, Charles Wesley Arlt and James Wren were convicted of: conspiracy to aid and abet the manufacture of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U. S. C. Section(s) 846; conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, in violation of 18 U. S. C. Section(s) 371; and numerous counts of money laundering, in violation of Section(s) 1956. The District Court sentenced Arlt to life in prison and a 10-year term of supervised release, and imposed a fine of $250,000. Wren was sentenced to life imprisonment and a 5-year term of supervised release.

Before the criminal trial had started, the United States had filed a civil in rem complaint against various property seized from, or titled to, Arlt and Wren, or Payback Mines, a corporation controlled by Arlt. The complaint alleged that each piece of property was subject to forfeiture both under 18 U. S. C. Section(s) 981(a)(1)(A), which provides that "[a]ny property . . . involved in a transaction or attempted transaction in violation of" Section(s) 1956 (the money-laundering statute) "is subject to forfeiture to the United States"; and under 21 U. S. C. Section(s) 881(a)(6), which provides...

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