Motion to Suppress in CAFRA Forfeiture Cases
When your money or property is seized without a warrant, one of the most important defenses in the case requires filing a motion to suppress illegally obtain evidence after an unlawful stop, a prolonged detention, a warrantless search, or the seizure of evidence.
The Fourth Amendment of the United States protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. CONST. amend. IV.
The Fourth Amendment applies to the seizure and subsequent civil forfeiture of property following a warrantless stop and search. For example, in One 1958 Plymouth Sedan v. Commonwealth of Penn., 380 U.S. 693, 85 S. Ct. 1246, 14 L. Ed. 2d 170 (1965), the court held that the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule applies to civil forfeiture proceedings.
Additionally, the Fourth Amendment’s requirements appear in the statutory framework of CAFRA. In fact, CAFRA specifically requires that seizures be made pursuant to a warrant or be based upon probable cause and made pursuant to a lawful search or arrest. See 18 U.S.C. § 981(b)(2)(B).
The forfeiture action may also be based on property seized by a state or local law enforcement agency and transferred to a federal agency, although those searches and seizures must also be lawfully conducted in compliance with the Fourth Amendment. See 18 U.S.C. § 981 (b)(2)(C).
Attorney for the Motion to Suppress in a Federal Forfeiture Case
If your case involves a warrantless stop of you or your vehicle, prolonged detention by law enforcement officers, the warrantless search of your personal or property, or the warrantless seizure of the property subject to forfeiture, then contact us.
Like any such motion, our attorneys understand that the motion to suppress in a civil asset forfeiture case must identify the date, time, and place of the illegal search and seizure or prolonged detention, the names of the law enforcement officers involved, the Claimant’s standing to raise the claim, and the specific evidence to be suppressed.
We can also help you file a motion to stay discovery pending a ruling on the motion to suppress.
For more information, contact an experienced civil asset forfeiture attorney at Sammis Law Firm.
Filing a Motion to Suppress in a Civil Asset Forfeiture Action
The claimant can move to suppress evidence gathered in a civil asset forfeiture case “much like a defendant in a criminal case who brings a motion to suppress.” See United States v. $200,255.00 in U.S. Currency, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40049, 2006 WL 1687774, *6 (M.D. Ga. June 16, 2006), the Court recognized the importance of filing a motion to suppress by citing the following cases:
- United States v. $99,990.00 in United States Currency, 69 Fed. Appx. 757, 2003 WL 21698849 (2003) (unpublished) (addressing a civil forfeiture claimant’s motion to suppress currency seized during search of hotel room and car;
- United States v. 4,432 Mastercases of Cigarettes, 448 F.3d 1168, 2006 WL 1511773 (2006) – addressing a civil forfeiture claimant’s motion to suppress cigarettes seized during a warrantless search of a storage area; and
- United States v. One Piece of Real Prop. Located at 5800 SW 74th Ave., 363 F.3d 1099 (11th Cir. 2004) – addressing a civil forfeiture claimant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during the search of a house.
As with any challenge pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, the Court requires inquiry into whether the individual initiating such challenge has standing to do so. For example, in Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143, 99 S. Ct. 421, 58 L. Ed. 2d 387 (1978), the United Supreme Court stating that a defendant must have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the place being searched to bring a Fourth Amendment challenge.
One common scenario involves the warrantless seizure of property that begins with a traffic stop of a suspect’s vehicle. In those cases, the court might evaluate the validity of the initial traffic stop, whether the driver granted valid consent to search the vehicle, and whether the officers exceeded the scope of the consent granted in conducting any subsequent search.
Another common scenario involves a law enforcement officer stopping a traveler to search their luggage at an airport or train station. In those cases, the court might consider the legality of the initial detention from the inception, whether the detention was unreasonably prolonged, whether the traveler really granted free and voluntary consent for the search, and the validity of any subsequent search of the traveler or their luggage.
The Extent of the Required Suppression in a CAFRA Forfeiture Action
Another issue relates to what remedy the Court should apply when deciding whether to suppress evidence, what evidence to suppress, and the impact of evidence being suppressed on the underlying forfeiture action.
However, “the mere fact that property was illegally seized does not immunize that property from forfeiture.” United States v. One 1977 Mercedes Benz, 708 F.2d 444, 450 (9th Cir. 1983). Rule G(8)(a) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime and Asset Forfeiture Claims provides that: “[s]uppression does not affect forfeiture of the property based on independently derived evidence.”
However, “the mere fact that property was illegally seized does not immunize that property from forfeiture.” United States v. One 1977 Mercedes Benz, 708 F.2d 444, 450 (9th Cir. 1983). See also Rule G(8)(a) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime and Asset Forfeiture Claims (“Suppression does not affect forfeiture of the property based on independently derived evidence”).
United States v. $145,850 United States Currency, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77686, *7
For example, in United States v. 482,627.00 in U.S. Currency, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9169, 2005 WL 1140603, *3 (2005) (unpublished), the court found that “an illegal search and seizure does not immunize goods from forfeiture so long as the Government satisfies its burden of proof by untainted evidence.”
In United States v. One 1974 Learjet 24D, 191 F.3d 668 (6th Cir. 1999), the court dated that seizure and forfeiture each implicate different evaluations of probable cause and noting that a lack of probable cause to seize the plane “would not, by itself, have ended the forfeiture proceedings.”
In United States v. 30,000.00 in United States Currency, 30 Fed.Appx. 473, 480 (6th Cir. 2002) (unpublished), the court found that “the absence of probable cause for a seizure may simply result in suppression of the evidence in a forfeiture proceeding. However, the failure to establish requisite probable cause for forfeiture precludes forfeiture.”
Warrantless Seizures in CAFRA Forfeitures under Section 981(b)
Section 981(b) specifically provides that:
“Seizures pursuant to this section shall be made pursuant to a warrant obtained in the same manner as provided for a search warrant under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, except that a seizure may be made without a warrant if–
(A) a complaint for forfeiture in rem has been filed in the United States district court and the court issued an arrest warrant in rem pursuant to the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims;
(B) there is probable cause to believe that the property is subject to forfeiture and —
(i) the seizure is made pursuant to a lawful arrest or search; or
(ii) another exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement would apply; or
(C) the property was lawfully seized by a State or local law enforcement agency and transferred to a federal agency.
18 U.S.C. § 981(b)(2).
This article was last updated on Friday, September 23, 2022.