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ALERT – ALERT – SUPREME COURT DECISION – FORFEITURE 

The Law Office of Tom Norrid

SAMARITAN PROJECTS LLC 

P.O. Box 9244

Springfield, MO 65801-9244

417-236-1179


May 10, 2024


CULLEY v. MARSHALL, 2024 U.S. LEXIS 1979 (S. Ct. May 9, 2024).


The Supreme Court issued a series of opinion in Culley v. Marshall, No. 22-585, concerning the process that is due in civil forfeiture proceedings.   This Culley ruling limits, by a 6-3 vote along the usual ideological lines, what is constitutionally required.  Justice Kavanaugh authored the opinion for the Court, which is relatively short and starts this way:


When police seize and then seek civil forfeiture of a car that was used to commit a drug offense, the Constitution requires a timely forfeiture hearing. The question here is whether the Constitution also requires a separate preliminary hearing to determine whether the police may retain the car pending the forfeiture hearing. This Court’s precedents establish that the answer is no: The Constitution requires a timely forfeiture hearing; the Constitution does not also require a separate preliminary hearing.


Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justice Thomas, authored an extended concurrence that starts this way:


I agree with the Court that, at a minimum, the Due Process Clause requires a prompt hearing in civil forfeiture cases. Ante, at 5.  I agree that no legal authority presented to us indicates a prompt hearing must necessarily take the form Ms. Culley and Ms. Sutton suppose. Ante, at 6. I agree, too, that Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U. S. 319 (1976), does not teach otherwise.  Ante, at 9.  Under its terms, judges balance “the private and governmental interests at stake,” Mathews, 424 U. S., at 340, to determine “what procedures the government must observe” when it seeks to withhold “benefits” “such as welfare or Social Security,” Nelson v. Colorado, 581 U. S. 128, 141 (2017) (ALITO, J., concurring in judgment).  That test does not control — and we do not afford any particular solicitude to “governmental interests” — in cases like this one where the government seeks to deprive an individual of her private property.  But if all that leads me to join today’s decision, I also agree with the dissent that this case leaves many larger questions unresolved about whether, and to what extent, contemporary civil forfeiture practices can be squared with the Constitution’s promise of due process.  I write separately to highlight some of them.


And Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Kagan and Jackson, authored an extended dissent that starts this way:


A police officer can seize your car if he claims it is connected to a crime committed by someone else. The police department can then keep the car for months or even years until the State ultimately seeks ownership of it through civil forfeiture. In most States, the resulting proceeds from the car’s sale go to the police department’s budget. Petitioners claim that the Due Process Clause requires a prompt, post-seizure opportunity for innocent car owners to argue to a judge why they should retain their cars pending that final forfeiture determination. When an officer has a financial incentive to hold onto a car and an owner pleads innocence, they argue, a retention hearing at least ensures that the officer has probable cause to connect the owner and the car to a crime.


Today, the Court holds that the Due Process Clause never requires that minimal safeguard. In doing so, it sweeps far more broadly than the narrow question presented and hamstrings lower courts from addressing myriad abuses of the civil forfeiture system. Because I would have decided only which due process test governs whether a retention hearing is required and left it to the lower courts to apply that test to different civil forfeiture schemes, I respectfully dissent.


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