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[This is the syllabus from decision limiting civil forfeiture.]
EXCERPT: "The principal question presented is whether, in the absence
of exigent circumstances, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth
Amendment prohibits the Government in a civil forfeiture case from
seizing real property without first affording the owner notice and an
opportunity to be heard. We hold that it does."
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
UNITED STATES v. JAMES DANIEL GOOD REAL PROPERTY et al.
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth
No. 92-1180. Argued October 6, 1993-Decided December 13, 1993
Four and one-half years after police found drugs and drug
paraphernalia in claimant Good's home and he pleaded guilty to
promoting a harmful drug in violation of Hawaii law, the United
States filed an in rem action in the Federal District Court, seeking
forfeiture of his house and land, under 21 U. S. C. 881(a)(7), on
the ground that the property had been used to commit or facilitate
the commission of a federal drug offense. Following an ex parte
proceeding, a Magistrate Judge issued a warrant authorizing the
property's seizure, and the Government seized the property without
prior notice to Good or an adversary proceeding.
In his claim for the property and answer to the Government's
complaint, Good asserted that he was deprived of his property without
due process of law and that the action was invalid because it had not
been timely commenced. The District Court ordered that the property
be forfeited, but the Court of Appeals reversed. It held that the
seizure without prior notice and a hearing violated the Due Process
Clause, and remanded the case for a determination whether the action,
although filed within the five-year period provided by 19 U. S. C.
1621, was untimely because the Government failed to follow the
internal notification and reporting requirements of 1602-1604.
1. Absent exigent circumstances, the Due Process Clause requires
the Government to afford notice and a meaningful opportunity to be
heard before seizing real property subject to civil forfeiure. Pp.
(a) The seizure of Good's property implicates two '''explicit
textual source[s] of constitutional protection,''' the Fourth
Amendment and the Fifth. Soldal v. Cook County, 506 U. S. ___, ___.
While the Fourth Amendment places limits on the Government's power to
seize property for purposes of forfeiture, it does not provide the
sole measure of constitutional protection that must be afforded
property owners in forfeiture proceedings. Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.
S. 103; Graham v. Connor, 490 U. S. 386, distinguished. Where the
Government seizes property not to preserve evidence of criminal
wrongdoing but to assert ownership and control over the property, its
action must also comply with the Due Process Clause. See, e.g.,
Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U. S. 663; Fuentes v.
Shevin, 407 U. S. 67. Pp. 4-8.
(b) An exception to the general rule requiring
predeprivationnotice and hearing is justified only in extraordinary
situations. Id., at 82. Using the three-part inquiry set forth in
Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U. S. 319 consideration of the private
interestaffected by the official action; the risk of an erroneous
deprivation of that interest through the procedures used, as well as
the probable value of additional safeguards; and the Government's
interest, including the administrative burden that additional
procedural requirements would impose, id., at 335-the seizure of real
property for purposes of civil forfeiture does not justify such an
exception. Good's right to maintain control over his home, and to be
free from governmental interference, is a private interest of
historic and continuing importance, cf., e.g., United States v. Karo,
468 U. S. 705, 714-715, that weighs heavily in the Mathews balance.
Moreover, the practice of ex parte seizure creates an unacceptable
risk of error, since the proceeding affords little or no protection
to an innocent owner, who may not be deprived of property under
881(a)(7). Nor does the governmental interest at stake here present
a pressing need for prompt action. Because real property cannot
abscond, a court's jurisdiction can be preserved without prior
seizure simply by posting notice on the property and leaving a copy
of the process with the occupant. In addition, the Government's
legitimate interests at the inception of a forfeiture proceeding-
preventing the property from being sold, destroyed, or used for
further illegal activity before the forfeiture judgment-can be
secured through measures less intrusive than seizure: a lis pendens
notice to prevent the property's sale, a restraining order to prevent
its destruction, and search and arrest warrants to forestall further
illegal activity. Since a claimant is already entitled to a hearing
before final judgment, requiring the Government to postpone seizure
until after an adversary hearing creates no significant
administrative burden, and any harm from the delay is minimal
compared to the injury occasioned by erroneous seizure. Pp. 8-16.
(c) No plausible claim of executive urgency, including the
Government's reliance on forfeitures as a means of defraying law
enforcement expenses, justifies the summary seizure of real property
under 881(a)(7). Cf. Phillips v. Commissioner, 283 U. S. 589. Pp.
2. Courts may not dismiss a forfeiture action filed within the
five-year statute of limitations for noncompliance with the timing
requirements of 1602-1604. Congress' failure to specify a
consequence for noncompliance implies that it intended the
responsible officials administering the Act to have discretion to
determine what disciplinary measures are appropriate when their
subordinates fail to discharge their statutory duties, and the
federal courts should not in the ordinary course impose their own
coercive sanction, see, e.g., United States v. Montalvo-Murillo, 495
U. S. 711, 717-721. Pp. 19-22. 971 F. 2d 1376, affirmed in part,
reversed in part, and remanded.
Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court with
respect to Parts I and III, and the opinion of the Court with respect
to Parts II and IV, in which Blackmun, Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg,
Rehnquist, C. J., filed an opinion concurring in part and
dissenting in part, in which Scalia, J., joined, and in which
O'Connor, J., joined as to Parts II and III.
O'Connor, J., and Thomas, J., filed opinions concurring in part
and dissenting in part.
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