U.S. Sixth Circuit - The FindLaw 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Civil Asset Forfeiture Appeal Clarifies Pleading Requirements

Civil asset forfeiture is controversial and confusing, to say the least. And despite it falling out of fashion during the Obama administration, AG Sessions supports its use. However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a decision that helps to clarify the court pleading requirements for those who are fighting to regain possession of seized property.

Civil asset forfeiture is the law enforcement equivalent of stealing candy from a baby. If an individual refuses to let their property be taken by law enforcement, they risk arrest for obstruction or some other related charge. Making matters worse, when people try to fight to reclaim ownership, procedural technicalities, and poorly crafted laws, often make recovery impossible.

What's This Case About?

The U.S. v. $31,000 in U.S. Currency, et. al. involves two claimants that had their cash seized at Cleveland's international airport. One had a sizable sum in cash in the lining to their suitcase, while the other went with the more traditional, $10,000 in a sock in the carryon. Authorities seized the money due to suspicion that it was the product of the drug trade. This belief was premised on one of the two men having an alleged reputation for being a large drug dealer in the Cleveland area.

Despite the suspicions of law enforcement, neither men were charged with anything criminal. However, their money was not returned. In order to get it back, they filed a federal complaint in the district court. But, the district court dismissed the case after the claimants failed to provide proof of where the money came from when asked by the government.

Uncontradicted Claim of Ownership Satisfies Standing

Although the district court was not satisfied by the claimants pleading asserting ownership, the appellate court was in fact satisfied by it. The appellate court explained that it was at too early of a stage for the claimants to be required to prove their case by supplying the information the government requested regarding proof of ownership/source of the funds. The appellate court found that the verified pleading asserting ownership met the requirement under Rule G. Further, the court noted that both claimants have valid Article III standing, rather than simply statutory standing, because they were clearly injured when their cash was taken away.

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