United States v. $8,850 in Currency

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: $8,850 in Currency
LOCATION: Family Court of Ulster County

DOCKET NO.: 81-1062
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 461 US 555 (1983)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1983
DECIDED: May 23, 1983

Mr. Andrew L. Frey - on behalf of the Petitioner
Victor Sherman - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. $8,850 in Currency

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 1983 in United States v. $8,850 in Currency

Warren E. Burger:

I think you may proceed whenever you're ready, Mr. Frey.

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The claimant in this case arrived in Los Angeles from Vancouver, Canada on September 10th, 1975.

On her Customs form was a question asking whether she was carrying with her more than $5,000 in currency.

That question was answered "No".

During the course of the Customs inspection process she was three times further asked whether she had on her person more than $5,000 in currency and three times denied it.

Because of suspicions of the Customs officers she was searched, and the search revealed an envelope concealed in her brassiere containing $8,850 in United States currency.

It's quite clear that she knew that this money was there, because when the Customs inspector counted the money and erroneously said it's $9,950, she said I know it's less than that.

Now, the issue in this case is whether the Government... this money was seized, by the way... and the issue is whether the Government was required to bring a judicial forfeiture action promptly following the procedure without regard to the pendancy of any criminal investigation or prosecution, and without regard to the pendancy of an administrative proceeding for possible remission of mitigation of the forfeiture.

And if there was some improper delay in bringing the action, whether the remedy was to return the money to the claimant despite the fact that she was not injured in any way by the delay.

Now, in order to place this issue in context for the Court I'd like to describe briefly the Customs forfeiture procedures.

After an item is seized, there is a prompt post-seizure notice given to the... any person who Customs is aware has... may have an interest in the item.

This notice advises them that they are allowed 60 days to file an administrative petition with the Secretary of the Treasury for remission or mitigation.

John Paul Stevens:

Mr. Frey, may I just ask, in this description are you describing the procedure under the Bank Secrecy Act or other forfeitures as well?

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:

Well, Customs employs the... the Bank Secrecy Act itself has no procedural provisions, and they employ the general Customs provisions for the administrative remission process.

John Paul Stevens:

Is... is... is your position that this case is typical of all forfeitures, or do we have a special problem under the Bank Secrecy Act in this case?

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:


I think this case is reflective of a general problem that we have had with forfeitures being barred on account of alleged unconstitutional delay.

There are some attributes which I'll get to later of the currency statute which make this, I think, a particularly strong case for the Government; but I will come to those.

John Paul Stevens:

But generally we could consider it pretty much the same as say the seizure of a boat or an automobile and a narcotic?

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:

I don't think there are any material differences, yes.

Now, the claimants, as I say, are allowed 60 days to file a petition for remission or mitigation, and it's quite clear from the statute that the decision whether to grant remission or to mitigate the penalty involved in a forfeiture is within the essentially unfetterd discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury or his delegatee.

Now, if an administration petition is filed, the practice is not to file a judicial forfeiture action until the administrative petition is decided.

If no petition is filed, then the practice normally is to refer the matter promptly to the United States Attorney for judicial action.

Now, I should point out that under the current statutes, the judicial action is required only where the value of the object to be forfeited exceeds $10,000.

At the time of this seizure it was $5,000, I believe, or $2,500.

Warren E. Burger:

What justification was presented for remission here?

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:

Well, in this case, as I understand it, the claimant asserted that she was not aware of her obligation to declare the money, because she believed that only money that had been acquired abroad would have to be declared.

I think that was the main reason that she gave.

Warren E. Burger:

That she had carried it from the United States outside and then was bringing it back on the way to Canada, is that--